Misawa police, military to use surprise sobriety checkpoints
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Military law-enforcement officers here are reviving a tactic that uses the element of surprise to deter drinking and driving.
Officials with the 35th Security Forces Squadron recently announced they would begin conducting joint checkpoints off base with Misawa police that target intoxicated American drivers assigned to the base.
They’re just not saying exactly when or where.
“The potential exists for multiple checkpoints at multiple times. It can be any time of the day, any day of the week,” said Maj. Robert Kafka, 35th Security Forces Squadron commander.
Security Forces in the past has worked similar traffic stops off base with Misawa police, the last being in spring 2004. Squadron leaders decided to team up again with their local counterparts in a renewed effort to eliminate driving-under-the-influence incidents, Kafka said.
“This has had a psychological deterrence in the past,” the commander said. “[We want] the individuals who drive off base to think twice about drinking and driving.”
At a checkpoint, the Japanese police, who maintain primary jurisdiction off base, would make the initial stop of a “Y”-plate vehicle, while security forces would talk to the driver.
“It’s a visual screening process,” said Senior Master Sgt. Darrin Nicholson, security forces manager. “We’ll say, ‘How are you doing tonight?’ Maybe identify who you are, ask to look at [the car’s paperwork]. If we detect alcohol, then we’ll start the process to determine how much alcohol is present through a field sobriety test.”
Law-enforcement officers could make an arrest on the spot, Nicholson said. Punishment for an off-base DUI would be the same as for one on base. A blood-alcohol content between 0.03 and 0.079, for example, yields a six-month driver’s license suspension.
“We have not done one [checkpoint] yet, but they should be starting really soon as we get into the holiday season,” Nicholson said, noting the random traffic stops will be year-round.
The base last week launched a new responsible-drinking campaign, “Check 60,” reminding people that, if they choose to drink they should limit alcoholic intake to no more than one drink per 60 minutes, eat food while imbibing, and to always have a plan.
“I think we have a good, responsible drinking atmosphere,” said Col. Sam Angelella, 35th Fighter Wing commander. “I think it’s just an opportunity to formalize something … and just to reemphasize it.”
As of Nov. 18, the base had 30 reported DUIs for the year, the same number as this time last year, according to base officials.