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Dec 7, 2013 12:42 AM

'Tis the season for DUI checkpoints, but are they worth it?

TUCSON-The winter season is in full swing, which means it's time for hot cocoa and holiday parties.

But be careful when you're sipping those Christmas cocktails. The Pima County Sheriff's Department will be holding DUI checkpoints every weekend this month.

"During the holiday season people go out to parties and celebrate and sometimes our minds are more on celebrating, rather than responsibility," Sgt. Jeff Copfer says.

About 20 deputies or sergeants will be out at each checkpoint. Each car that passes through must stop and the driver is asked whether or not he or she has been drinking. If the answer is yes, the driver typically must get out of the car for a sobriety test.

Sgt. Copfer says if it can help save just one life, it's worth it. "If you'd like to talk to maybe a mother of a child who has been killed by a drunk driver and ask her if this is a waste of time, I think it's all perception," Sgt. Copfer says.

But James Nesci, a DUI defense lawyer, says the checkpoints aren't effective. "DUI checkpoints are nothing but a political showpoint," Nesci says. "They're a waste of time, a waste of money, and a waste of resources."

Between January 2013 and June 2013, PCSD held seven DUI checkpoints. Deputies stopped a total of 5,532 drivers. Of those drivers 81 were investigated for a DUI and 32 were arrested. Not all arrests were DUI related. "They inconvenience the public," Nesci says. "They inconvenienced over 5,000 people in the first six months, over 5,000! And the cost on people's dignity is overwhelming."

Instead Nesci recommends a DUI task force, where a few patrols drive around a problem area and pull over drunk drivers. It's something the sheriff's department already does, in addition to the checkpoints. "They'll arrest as many people as it took them six months to arrest," Nesci says. "They'll do it with five to 10 officers in about a five hour shift and they won't inconvenience 5,000 people."

Sgt. Copfer says regardless of whether or not you agree with the checkpoints, it's best to avoid drinking and driving no matter the season. Not only can it kill you, it can also cost you. Sgt. Copfer says the total can run as high as $10,000.

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