The New “Highway Robbery”: Money-Making DUI Roadblocks Growing

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on February 14th, 2010

I’ve commented repeatedly in the past about how DUI roadblocks (MADD prefers the less oppressive term "sobriety checkpoints") are inefficient at apprehending drunk drivers.  See Do DUI Roadblocks Work?Do DUI Roadblocks Work (Part II),  As a means of apprehending drunk drivers, even law enforcement admits they are only effective as a deterrent — i.e., keeping people off the streets.  See DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective – Because They’re Inefective, Purpose of DUI Roadblocks: "Shock and Awe".

So why are cops using more and more DUI roadblocks?  Simple:  They are goldmines.  See DUI: Government’s Cash Cow, What if the Cash Cow Goes Dry? and How to Make a Million in the DUI Business.

A quick refresher:

1.  It is illegal to stop a citizen without probable cause to believe they have violated the law.

2. A roadblock constitutes a stop without probable cause.

3.  The US. Supreme Court ruled in Michigan v. Sitz that although a DUI roadblock does constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the governmentalal interest in reducing drunk driving fatalities outweighs the "minimal intrusion" into a citizen’s constitutional rights. 

4.  Under the decision, roadblocks can only be for the purpose of arresting drunk drivers.  However, as with any investigative detention, if the officer finds other violations of law during the roadblock stop, he does not have to ignore them.

So…A cop can’t stop you to check for registration or license, possible equipment violations, open containers, seat belt checks, etc.  But if they throw up a DUI roadblock, they can screen hundreds of drivers for anything they can find.  Result:  citations, arrests, impounded vehicles — and an invaluable source of revenue for local governments.  See, for example, DUI Roadblock: 1131 Stops, 114 Tickets, 0 DUI Arrests, Another "Successful" DUI Roadblock: 3000 Drivers Stopped, 0 DUIs.

The following is a story from yesterday’s news by investigative reporter Ryan Gabrielson, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting:   
 

California Cops Exploit DUI Checkpoints to

Bring in Money for Cities, Police

California police are turning DUI checkpoints into profitable operations that are far more likely to seize cars from unlicensed minority motorists than catch drunken drivers.

Berkeley, CA. Feb. 13 – An investigation by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley with California Watch has found that impounds at checkpoints in 2009 generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines – revenue that cities divide with towing firms.

Additionally, police officers received about $30 million in overtime pay for the DUI crackdowns, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety…

In the course of its examination, the Investigative Reporting Program reviewed hundreds of pages of city financial records and police reports, and analyzed data documenting the results from every checkpoint that received state funding during the past two years. Among the findings:

• Sobriety checkpoints frequently screen traffic within, or near, Hispanic neighborhoods. Cities where Hispanics represent a majority of the population are seizing cars at three times the rate of cities with small minority populations. In South Gate, a Los Angeles County city where Hispanics make up 92 percent of the population, police confiscated an average of 86 vehicles per operation last fiscal year. 

• The seizures appear to defy a 2005 federal appellate court ruling that determined police cannot impound cars solely because the driver is unlicensed. In fact, police across the state have ratcheted up vehicle seizures. Last year, officers impounded more than 24,000 cars and trucks at checkpoints. That total is roughly seven times higher than the 3,200 drunken driving arrests at roadway operations. The percentage of vehicle seizures has increased 53 percent statewide compared to 2007.  

• Departments frequently overstaff checkpoints with officers, all earning overtime. The Moreno Valley Police Department in Riverside County averaged 38 officers at each operation last year, six times more than federal guidelines say is required. Nearly 50 other local police and sheriff’s departments averaged 20 or more officers per checkpoint – operations that averaged three DUI arrests a night…

With support from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California more than doubled its use of sobriety checkpoints the past three years.

State officials have declared that 2010 will be the “year of the checkpoint.” Police are scheduling 2,500 of the operations in every region of California. Some departments have begun to broaden the definition of sobriety checkpoints to include checking for unlicensed drivers…


It’s probably just a coincidence that California, on the verge of bankruptcy, has decided to make this the "year of the checkpoint".

 
(Thanks to David Baker.)
 

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