Columbia police prepare for continued Mardi Gras festivities
COLUMBIA - Mardi Gras may have passed, but the festivities have not. The Columbia Police Department and the Boone County Sheriff's Department will team up this weekend to crack down on impaired driving.
The police department said it expects Mardi Gras celebrations to carry into the weekend and it can take steps to increase public safety.
"Impaired driving is something that can be prevented all year long," DWI Enforcement Officer Scott Lenger said. "Especially in times where there's a high likelihood of people to be driving impaired, once again with Mardi Gras celebrations."
Between Thursday night and Sunday morning the departments will conduct at least one sobriety checkpoint in Columbia. The departments generally do not disclose specific times and locations of the checkpoints, but one officer said announcing checkpoints serves a purpose in itself.
"We do checkpoints for multiple reasons. One is a deterrent," DWI Enforcement Officer Scott Lenger said. "If we announce to people that we're doing checkpoints hopefully that will detour people from driving impaired."
Lenger said he has noticed an impact.
"We've also had checkpoints where a person has told us, ‘I knew you were going to have a checkpoint, I knew I was going to drink tonight, so I got a sober driver." Lenger said. "And sure enough, he had a sober driver with him and he came through the checkpoint. And that's what we strive for."
Drivers will need to present their driver's license at checkpoints and should expect minor delays.
Lenger said the Police Department usually has 10 officers working a checkpoint. There will be two to four officers searching for impaired drivers on nights without a checkpoint.
Lenger said he has seen nights where a checkpoint resulted in zero arrests, but he said he has also seen the other end of the spectrum.
"I've been to checkpoints where we've had people waiting in line to be checked for field sobriety, and when I say waiting in line I mean 10, 12, 15 people, and 20 people have been arrested," Lenger said.
Lenger said DWI offenses could result in a suspended driver's license, fines and, depending on prior offenses, prison time.
A grant from MoDOT will fund the officer's overtime pay. The weekend checkpoint will be the first of at least six the grant requires the Columbia Police Department to conduct this year.