Graduation can be a bittersweet experience for some.
Commencement season always ends in celebrations, some of which have traditionally included a range of illegal activities such as drinking or taking drugs while driving, illegally entering night clubs or purchasing alcohol with false identification.The fear that graduation excitement may entice some young adults to engage in dangerous activities has prompted the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office and several school officials to take action.
Cpl. Larry Marx, of the Salt Lake County sheriff's traffic division, said the department conducted roadblocks Wednesday and Friday evenings in an effort to cut down on such activities. In all, more than 2,900 cars were stopped.
But the effort has been criticized as unconstitutional by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Michele Parish-Pixler, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, said, "Their constitutionality is questionable and has been challenged around the country. We oppose (roadblocks) because the Constitution says there will not be searches and seizures without probable cause and search warrants, and this flies in the face of the Bill of Rights.
"It's always more convenient for law enforcement officers to search everyone. I'm concerned about the students, and there should be intensive educational efforts made to warn them about the dangers of drinking and driving," Parish-Pixler said.
Roadblocks were set up at the entrance to Big Cottonwood Canyon, 7000 South and Millcreek Canyon and 3900 South and Butterfield Canyon.
Approximately 10 officers at each checkpoint stopped every vehicle going to or from the recreational areas. Officers said they were mainly checking for driver licenses, vehicle registrations and traffic violations.
"We haven't targeted a specific group of people. We stop any car that passes through. They all become subject to the law," said deputy sheriff John Kimball.
On Wednesday, deputies stopped more than 400 cars from 2:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and issued 84 citations. Most were given to drivers who didn't have a license or had an open alcohol container in their vehicles.
During the same day, officers also stopped 841 vehicles, issued 104 citations and made two alcohol-related arrests at Millcreek Canyon. Deputies assigned to Butterfield Canyon, 13600 South and 8800 West, patrolled the area on horseback and in 4-wheel-drive vehicles with K-9 units, Marx said.
Friday was much busier. Deputies checked 2,485 vehicles and issued 180 citations. Only five of those citations were alcohol-related. "I think the word has been getting around," said Sheriff's Lt. Glen Bailess.
Law enforcement officers say they believe the annual efforts have proven to be worthwhile, and alcohol-related fatalities have been reduced.
Education officials have also beefed up their security measures and are offering all-night drug-and-alcohol-free parties as well as neighborhood dances where students are encouraged to avoid alcohol.