Continuing their crackdown on unruly patrons of Fells Point bars, city police plan to set up sobriety checkpoints tonight to catch drunken drivers -- the first time such a tactic has been used in Baltimore, commanders said.
On streets surrounding the popular waterfront area, police will stop cars and question drivers from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Checkpoints will be set up on "routes heavily used to come and go from the Fells Point area," said Maj. John E. Gavrilis, commander of the Southeastern Police District.
Police started saturating Fells Point in May, sending undercover officers into the neighborhood on Friday and Saturday nights to answer complaints from residents who said patrons were drinking alcohol in public, urinating in yards and vandalizing homes.
The first weekend, officers arrested 37 people, many for urinating in public -- an offense for which a citation can be issued. On the Friday of the July 4 weekend, police either
arrested or cited 56 people.
Some bar owners worried that the police presence would drive away business. But Major Gavrilis said yesterday that while crowds remain the same, the number of arrests and citations has TC gone down. Last weekend, only nine people were cited.
"I don't think we have deterred anybody from coming," the major said. "But the rowdies who were coming are probably thinking twice."
Officer Michael McKnight, the district's traffic enforcement officer, said city police have arrested 401 people this year on drunken-driving charges, 60 in his district. "It's a big problem," he said -- even though many people only give it a thought on holidays.
Several localities, including Howard County and Annapolis, use sobriety checkpoints.
Major Gavrilis said the city has not set up checkpoints in the past because congested streets make such initiatives difficult. City streets also offer many escape routes for people who see a checkpoint from blocks away. The program will be evaluated after tonight to see whether it should be continued.