By ALICIA ROMAN
Lest readers not understand anything else about the protest against police checkpoints (“Protesters warn drivers of police checkpoints,” July 12), they should understand that I support law enforcement efforts to get drunken drivers off our roads.
My problem is with our police taking advantage of the poorest people of our community by implementing an impound policy that is contrary to current law.
I have reviewed several hundred pages of documents, including Department of Motor Vehicles statistics and reports received from Sonoma County police officials and obtained from other sources. I have had discussions with community members, including Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm and Petaluma Police Sgt. Ken Savano, and conducted several hours of legal research. I’ve also observed Sonoma County law enforcement checkpoints for more than a year.
The claims put forward by the police, that 30-day impounds (1) comply with constitutional protections against unreasonable seizures, (2) are necessary to deter unsafe drivers and (3) are a fair penalty for those who break the law, are not persuasive. I am confident that our protest against the 30-day impounds of cars driven by non-drunken drivers is not only appropriate but necessary.
With others from the Committee for Immigrant Rights, I have discussed with Schwedhelm the fact that police have a choice. They can choose to follow the law and stop 30-day impounds of non-drunken drivers’ cars, and there will be no protest. However, they choose to impound cars from hard-working individuals and families.
I have on various occasions seen officers in Santa Rosa impound cars of families with small children and leave them on the side of the road with all their belongings in freezing temperatures, putting the children at risk of getting sick.
I saw an officer direct a person, who was driving home from work when his car was impounded, to walk down a dark winding road in Petaluma — in front of the outlet stores.
Through discussions with community members, I heard about a father who was forced to carry his disabled adult daughter down a busy road when his specially modified minivan was impounded.
All these people were placed in danger by police who are sworn to protect them. These stories represent why I am protesting our local police department impound policies.
There are several alternatives to impounding cars for 30 days for non-drunken drivers. A few of these alternatives (which other counties have chosen to implement) include:
• Citing the driver and giving him or her an opportunity to make a phone call to a licensed driver to pick up the car within 30 minutes.
• Allowing the car to remain parked where it is, if the location is safe place, and having the driver sign a waiver allowing the car to be towed at the expense of the driver.
• Allowing the vehicle to be stored until a licensed driver can pick up the vehicle.
The thing some critics cannot fathom is why anyone would advocate for those who are easy targets, the poor and undocumented. I would like to tell these people that before they rush to judgment, they should think for a moment or more about their true motives for criticizing my objection to our impound policies.
Alicia Roman is a Santa Rosa attorney and a member of the Committee for Immigrant Rights.