Flashing police lights, a line of traffic and an LED sign reading “checkpoint ahead” might be the only alerts Summit County motorists receive that a sobriety checkpoint lies ahead.

That’s because police in Summit County keep secret the locations of upcoming sobriety checkpoints, defying best practice guidelines set forth by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Though the patrol’s guidelines are recommendations and not laws, Summit is the only one of Ohio’s six most populous counties to refuse to warn drivers where they’ll set up road blocks.

Richfield Police Lt. Joe Davis, the spokesman for the Summit County OVI Task Force, said the group does make general announcements that checkpoints will be set up.

“We do not, however, supply the location in an effort to raise the perception of potential arrest for OVI for those driving impaired,” he said.

Davis said specific checkpoint locations have never been released in the 12 years he’s served on the task force.

Police in five of Ohio’s other urban counties — Franklin, Cuyahoga, Montgomery, Hamilton and Lucas counties — announce locations. Cleveland police even announce checkpoints on social media.

But checkpoints remain controversial. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled they’re constitutional because the improvement of public safety outweighs the “mild intrusion” on constitutional rights that provide protections against unlawful search and seizure. Still, 12 states ban them outright and many others restrict them.

In the Buckeye State, the Ohio State Highway Patrol announces specific checkpoint locations, and many local checkpoint policies are fashioned after the patrol’s guidelines.

The patrol’s policies are a result of studying best practices, said patrol spokesman Lt. Craig Cvetan. He said announcing locations makes it harder for defense attorneys to have cases thrown out of court.

Still, he said, the patrol’s policies are not state law.

“This is the way we do things, but not everyone has to follow our policy,” he said. “Some courts may find that because they notified the media about having a checkpoint but didn’t give an exact location, that’s OK by law.”

The patrol’s policies were fashioned after guidelines penned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and many police and OVI task forces modeled their policies after the patrol’s guidelines.

Police say they’ve heard criticism from the public for announcing the locations. Some say impaired drivers can easily avoid checkpoints if they know where they’re being held. But Cvetan said making arrests isn’t the goal; instead, it’s more about raising awareness that police are searching for impaired drivers.

“We don’t expect a large volume of OVI arrests,” he said. “The other side of this is public awareness of impaired driving.”

Summit County’s task force is no different. More than 400 vehicles passed through two checkpoints held May 20 in Barberton. Just one person was arrested on charges of impaired driving. Others were arrested on charges of driving under suspension, drug possession and felony warrants.

Lawyers, including Akron attorney Jon Sinn, have questioned the constitutionality of Summit County’s policy.

Sinn on Friday was critical of the task force’s failure to announce checkpoint locations.

“A lot of us defense attorneys believe that’s in violation of case law,” he said. “The courts so far in Summit County have ruled police are in compliance, but we disagree.”

He also questioned the effectiveness of checkpoints, considering so few are arrested when they’re held.

“The cops say they’re not trying to catch drunk drivers, they’re trying to deter them. But there’s been nothing to back them up that that’s happening,” he said. “These checkpoints were a good idea in theory, but in practice they’re not working.”

Nick Glunt can be reached at 330-996-3565 or nglunt@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGluntABJ.