The troopers and deputies congregated at a designated spot outside city limits Saturday night and, within minutes, had one person under arrest, used a drug-sniffing dog to search a truck carrying two other people and inspected a few dozen additional vehicles passing through.
This flurry of activity is not out of the ordinary when area law enforcement sets up one of its myriad safety checkpoints.
If you’re a motorist, chances are you’ve come upon one of these checkpoints at some point in your driving career - manned by at least three cruisers with flashing blue lights, often more, situated at well-traveled intersections.
A uniformed officer motions you to stop and asks to see your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance, while a second officer checks the tags on your license plate to make sure they are up to date.
Often, that will mark the end of your time with the police and they will send you on your way with a friendly admonition to stay safe.
If your documents are outdated, you appear to be impaired or you act suspiciously, you are likely in for further questioning from police.
“Our main goal is to ensure the safety of the motorist traveling to their destination,” said Sgt. Todd Combs of the Kentucky State Police.
8:35 p.m. Saturday, intersection of Ky. 185 and Ky. 526
Members of the KSP and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office had barely established themselves at this checkpoint when two pickup trucks traveling south on Ky. 185 were asked to pull over.
Police learned that the driver of one truck had a warrant out against him for second-degree assault and he was arrested. A passenger in the man’s truck had her driver’s license with her and was able to drive away from the checkpoint.
At the other truck, two people who were acting suspiciously and were known by police to have been involved in previous drug activity consented to a search of their vehicle and were asked to step outside while Deputy Curtis Hargett of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Gunner, his K-9 partner, conducted the search.
The search turned up no drugs or other illegal items, and the pair were allowed to go on their way.
Arrests are not uncommon at traffic checkpoints.
Between June 1, 2010, and July 11, 2010, KSP Post 3 in Bowling Green conducted 25 checkpoints and inspected 917 vehicles. During the course of those inspections, five people were arrested for driving under the influence, seven were arrested for drug-related offenses, seven drivers were cited for seat belt violations, another seven were arrested or cited for operating on a suspended license and two drivers were cited for child restraint violations, according to a KSP news release.
Combs said that he has witnessed drivers arrive at police checkpoints with active methamphetamine labs in their vehicles.
KSP Post 3 covers an eight-county area and can set up checkpoints in dozens of locations, though the state police is often helped by other law enforcement agencies.
“If it’s not us conducting a checkpoint, the KSP usually does,” Hargett said. “We work well together.”
Police had to shut down this checkpoint after about 30 minutes when state troopers were called to respond to a reported assault in Butler County involving a stabbing victim.
Combs said the incident illustrates the reality that, while the checkpoints serve an important function, emergency calls such as the one in Butler County take top priority when police are called to assist.
9 p.m. Sunday, Girkin Road and Girkin-Boiling Springs Road
Amid intermittent claps of thunder, flashes of lightning and pops of fireworks, five KSP troopers were checking vehicles as they filtered through the four-way stop at this intersection in northeastern Warren County.
“Sometimes it’s a real hopping spot and sometimes it isn’t,” Combs said. “It just depends on when we get here.”
Checkpoints are often set up during major holiday periods that attract heavy vehicle traffic such as the recent Independence Day weekend.
Combs said that police are just as apt to work a checkpoint on an ordinary day as time and available manpower dictates.
“We obviously try to focus on the holiday enforcement periods, but depending on the roadway you’re just as likely to see us out on a Tuesday night,” Combs said.
About 30 vehicles passed through this intersection during the hour that the checkpoint was in effect Sunday night.
This rural intersection is relatively quiet, with no arrests or citations resulting from the checkpoint.
Combs said that safety checkpoints are not confined to major holidays or the busiest roads by design.
“We’d love for people to let us know about roads that need more attention that we may not be aware of,” Combs said.
At a moment when the intersection was clear, the troopers decided to travel elsewhere to set up another checkpoint.
10:30 p.m. Sunday, U.S. 68 at Carl Jordan Road
The number of troopers at this checkpoint thinned from five to three after two troopers were dispatched to a reported domestic dispute.
After about an hour here, another domestic call sent the remaining three troopers back toward Bowling Green, breaking up the checkpoint.
This portion of U.S. 68 is a straight shot - on a clear night, the cruiser’s blue lights are visible at a great distance.
Combs said drivers have approached checkpoints in the past and tried to turn around to avoid being caught doing something illegal. A trooper who sees that will typically go after the driver, he said.
In recent years, police participating in traffic checkpoints have begun wearing reflective safety vests that make their presence known more readily.
Hargett said Saturday that the flashing cruiser lights should serve as a cue to drivers to slow down as they approach, but even responsible drivers can forget the possibility that there are law enforcement officers on foot in the road, directing traffic or conducting checkpoints.
“There have been several instances where we’ve almost been struck by these vehicles,” Hargett said.
Last year on Sept. 14, two KSP troopers in Barren County had to jump out of the way of a vehicle that sped through a checkpoint at Old Lexington Road and Old Munfordville Road without stopping.
The troopers pursued the vehicle into Hart County, where it was found abandoned.
Two weeks after the incident, the suspected driver, Raymond Luker of Canmer, was arrested in Florida and returned to Kentucky, where he was charged with two counts of attempted murder and several other felony offenses in Barren and Hart counties.
This spot in eastern Warren County near Oakland proved to be active in the number of vehicles, if not arrests, during the hour that police were there.
At one point, a lull during which the intersection stood empty was broken up by a row of eight vehicles traveling east on U.S. 68.
In the end, the checkpoint produced two citations, written by Trooper Kevin Mayfield and issued to two motorists for driving with expired tags.
Another driver was asked to step outside her car and submit to a breath test to check if she was driving under the influence. She passed the test and was allowed to continue.
Combs said he was surprised, but also glad that no arrests came out of this checkpoint.
“Hopefully, it means we’ve made a difference and helped encourage people not to drive while impaired,” Combs said.