Are police departments abusing their DUI checkpoint privileges?

I can hardly believe the recent events in Baldwin Park.

Last night the council unanimously agreed to suspect all DUI checkpoints due to protesting residents who felt local police were abusing their power.

This is unheard of (by me) to see a council suspend DUI checkpoints and for such protesting to occur.

DUI checkpoints, for most people, have just become a fact of life. Busy weekends, neighborhoods with bars, etc. all bring on the checkpoints proposed to help prevent or catch drunk drivers. Most of the checkpoints are run by local police departments, but are funded by the state through a grant program from the Office of Traffic Safety.

But the reality is most checkpoints don’t catch drunk drivers and while they are hailed as a deterrent, there really is no empirical data to support that assertion.

Opponents often look at the checkpoints as more of a “papers” check, a place where police can happen upon unlicensed, uninsured, unregistered drivers, parolees, people with warrants for arrest, etc.

In fact, most people arrested or that have their cars impounded at checkpoints are of that variety than of the drunk driving group. Vastly.

Here is an editorial from a police Lieutenant defending checkpoints that makes a similar point that even without much DUI arrests, checkpoints serve the health and safety of society.

But is it constitutional?

At a recent Baldwin Park checkpoint leading up to the suspension, 150 cars were impounded but a source said the majority were unrelated to issues of sobriety.

Prior to that, Tom Himes reported about a woman suing the Baldwin Park Police Department for unlawfully impounding her car.

In El Monte last month, police checked more than 2,000 cars, impounded 27 vehicles and made one arrest for driving under the influence.

Those numbers are contradictory to the purpose of checkpoints. In 2005, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Miranda v. City of Cornelius established that many impounds are “unreasonable seizures” that don’t jive with the Fourth Amendment.

Still, police departments don’t seem to be listening too closely to the appeals court decision, but this newspaper is.

Editor Frank Girardot took the practice to task in his column here.

The paper’s editorial board also took a stance against the checkpoint structure and system.

More background on the issues in Baldwin Park here.

I think it is safe to say, that in Los Angeles Courty, a system of checkpoints that worked relatively under the radar without critique or oversight is finally getting a dash of its medicine.

What are your thoughts? Is using sobriety as a reason for checkpoints misleading? Should they no longer use the guise of DUI deterrent if they continue checkpoints? Are police officers stepping on the rights of citizens? Or, despite the contradiction between their name and the outcome, do the results of the checkpoints, (i.e. arrests of wanted individuals, impounding vehicles of unlicensed drivers, etc.) outweigh the potential infringement of the Fourth amendment?

Email: daniel.tedford@sgvn.com | Twitter: @dgtedford @sgvtribune | Facebook: SGVTribune

  • David Huffington

    Thanks for your column. The answer to your headline question is yes. Police departments are harassing tax-paying citizens in violation of the Constitution so they can earn revenue from impounding cars.

    IF they truly cared about our safety they would be out on patrol, since all evidence shows it is a much more effective method than checkpoints.

  • Amy Carrasco

    Wow great eye opener! Excellent !

  • Amy Carrasco

    Wow great eye opener! Excellent !

  • You’ve got to be kidding me

    How is this harassment? About 99% of the cars contacted on the checkpoint are let go with nothing more than, “Good night, drive carefully.” If you happen to have a suspended license, you don’t have a license, you have narcotics, you have outstanding warrants or you’re DUI, how is this the fault of the police? You want these people to drive on the same street as you so when you get involved in a traffic collision with them, you’ll be cheated out of any compensation because these people are unlicensed and uninsured? The police impound the cars of these people and you complain about harassment. The police DON’T impound the cars of these people, you complain the police didn’t do their jobs because they let these people go and now they’ve crash into you. They can’t win can they? So long as you’re safe and removed from all this controversy, you can criticize from afar right?

  • You’ve got to be kidding me

    I forgot to add, a local police department recently did a checkpoint on a Saturday night. In a six hour span, they arrested 5 drunk drivers and found a loaded gun in the car of a felony warrant suspect. That’s six potential murderers off the street. If that isn’t about public safety, I don’t know what is.

  • Disappointed.

    I agree with You’ve got to be kidding me 100% Why this column was even made, no clue. It just trys to make citizens second guess everything. There is no need to second guess anything, if by the end of the night you are nice and sound in bed, I guess the law enforcement agencies ARE doing their work.

  • your bubble has popped

    Your numbers are are so outta wack, please look more carefully. 1 out of 15 cars that get impounded are drunk drivers. I completely agree that these impounds are wrong and are completely racial profiling people. I live in La Puente and every month we have DUI checkpoints. THey are always in area where there is a predominantly large Latino community, the same goes for Baldwin Park. When I go visit my friends in Walnut, Diamond Bar, Rancho, etc, they never see or hear of these DUI checkpoints. There are loads of bars, restaurants that serve alcohol and nothing. I am one of those citizens that warn people of these checkpoint and hold signs, and even pass peoples cars with my drivers license. I have gone to court and see the thousands of dollars the state of CA receives from impounded cars, last year alone they received 40 million! Look at the facts people, and just to let you know, the ones with all the hate, it dies with you….think love…because one day, you are going to need it!

  • You’ve got to be kidding me

    You bubble has popped: You’re an upstanding citizen I can see, getting people(namely drunks and unlicensed drivers) to avoid these checkpoints so they can potentially go out, crash and kill someone. And if you’ve been to DUI checkpoints, you know that they are called “DUI/Driver’s License Checkpoints.” Unlicensed drivers are just as dangerous and costly. Get to know the area outside the bubble of La Puente. Every single police department in this county does these checkpoints (funds permitted) on a regular basis. The Hispanic community has a very large population and generally, is pretty spread throughout Southern California. Does that mean every police department is now racial profiling, targeting the Hispanic community specifically? So if Beverly Hills or San Marino does a checkpoint every weekend, you’d be okay with it because it’s not “racial profiling?’ You never addressed my point. What do you think should happen to a vehicle of an unlicensed or suspended driver? I’m venturing a guess that you have a valid license, as most law abiding citizens do. You and I have to renew our license every so often, drive carefully so we don’t pulled over and pay an increasing amount for auto insurance. It doesn’t make your skin crawl that there are also a large amount of the population that ignores the rules, that don’t bother to get a license, don’t bother to get valid insurance and continue to drive even though they know their license is suspended? They do it over and over again and nothing ever happens to them. Officers, in some cases, have some discretion as to whether to impound the cars of these people. But by and large, if you know you’re doing it and you get caught, you better be ready to pay the consequences. I don’t understand how you think this has anything to do with race, hate or love. It’s love not to have someone crash into you, hurt you and get away without paying for their actions. It’s love to take drunk drivers off the street. It doesn’t get more lovely that that.

  • Anonymous

    These check points are a crock of shit. There just used to protect there jobs and make sure they don’t end up getting laid off. why do I believe this, I have lived in Baldwin park my entire life and have never seen this many check points here, only recently when budget cuts are coming into play are they starting to use every way possible to gain revenue. Heres another example of why i believe this.

    I was stopped at one in june I believe it was. To my mistake I had forgotten my paper work given to me a week prior by the DMV stating I had my license well I waited for my ID to arrive. When I gave them my name an they supposedlyran it they said i didn’t have a license and try to impound my vehicle. I was there fighting with them for a while that I had my license well listening to the officer insult me calling me a liar. Luckily my father was able to get my paper work before that bone head cop got my car towed (you will know why I call him a bone head in just a moment). He then try to say that it was DMV Fault. which i figured okay maybe there was an error some where. Next day I go to the DMV and they tell me that everything is fine with the license and there is no reason the officer should not of been able to find proof of my license. I was pissed and got my friend from Irwindale police to check and he brought it up right away. What does that tell me there check point is complete bullshit. There just out to get people. By the way this was Baldwin Park PD.

    Here’s a video someone caught of two jack ass cops doing an illegal check point. http://www.whittierdailynews.com/news/ci_16174688

  • kent

    for DUI protest chat, please visit http://duireform.blogspot.com/2011/01/dui-reform.html