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Protesters warn drivers of police checkpoints in Santa Rosa and Petaluma



Opponents of police vehicle impoundment practices are hitting the streets, intent on warning motorists of police checkpoints in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

Protesters holding signs in Spanish will continue to show up at checkpoints to protest 30-day impoundments of vehicles operated by drivers without valid licenses, said Alicia Roman, a Santa Rosa attorney who is a member of the Committee for Immigrant Rights.

The cost of reclaiming an impounded auto, typically $2,000, places an “undue hardship” on low-income people, including Latino immigrants, she said.

“People are upset this is going on,” Roman said.

Police officials, who have discussed the issue with Roman’s group and American Civil Liberties Union representatives, say the checkpoints are both legal and appropriate.

“I believe it is an effective strategy for making the streets safer,” said Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm.

“There are consequences for not following the law,” he said, regarding the impoundments and cost of getting the car back.

Petaluma Police Sgt. Ken Savano, who coordinates checkpoints, acknowledged that the protesters are exercising their First Amendment right of free speech and may do so as long as they do not obstruct sidewalks or get in a roadway.

“They are taking a close look at law enforcement,” Savano said. “We don’t have any problem with that.”

But he also suggested that the protests might enable alcohol-impaired drivers, “who could kill any one of us,” to evade the checkpoints.

The police stops are intended to catch people driving under the influence, as well as motorists with suspended or revoked licenses and unlicensed drivers, he said.

The 30-day impound is applied only to drivers cited for license violations, Savano said, and keeps a vehicle “away from that driver for 30 days.”

Roman said the checkpoint protests are intended to warn Spanish-speaking drivers, including illegal immigrants whose status prohibits them from obtaining California driver’s licenses.

“We are not out there to help drunk drivers,” she said.

Amalia Greenberg Delgado, an ACLU attorney in San Francisco, said that the Santa Rosa checkpoints are netting substantially more driver’s license violations than DUI citations.

Santa Rosa police statistics, obtained by Roman, show that 5,277 vehicles were screened at checkpoints between December 2006 and June 2008, resulting in 96 vehicles towed for license violations and six DUI arrests.

Savano noted that DUI arrests in Petaluma increased 8 percent in 2009-10, while vehicle collisions are down 20 percent. They have dropped to the lowest level in 10 years, a trend he attributed largely to the checkpoints.

“It is absolutely worth it,” Savano said.

Rick Coshnear, a Santa Rosa attorney and member of the Committee for Immigration Rights, said police are blurring the distinction between drivers who have never had a license and those who are currently unlicensed but may have previously been licensed in Mexico, another state or in California before it ceased licensing undocumented immigrants.

The state law on vehicle impoundment applies to people whose licenses have been suspended, revoked or restricted or those “driving a vehicle without ever having been issued a driver’s license.”

It is likely, Coshnear said, that drivers “whose licenses have been suspended or revoked…are much more dangerous than those who do not currently have a valid license.”

Santa Rosa’s vehicle impound program was started in the mid-1990s in response to a spate of hit-and-run collisions and the finding that many who flee from a crash are unlicensed drivers, Schwedhelm said.

Numerous collisions still involve unlicensed and uninsured drivers who cause injuries and property damage, he said. “That’s the other side of the story,” Schwedhelm said.

Officers have discretion to avoid impounding vehicles for license violations, enabling the driver and occupants to get home safely by taxi or with a licensed driver, Schwedhelm said.

But an unlicensed driver cannot be allowed to drive away because that would expose the city to significant liability, he said.

“We are going to encourage our officers to impound,” Schwedhelm said.

The road would be safer, Savano said, if all residents — regardless of immigration status — were tested and licensed to drive, and required to carry insurance.

Such a decision is up to the Legislature, Schwedhelm said, agreeing that universal licensing “may help the situation.”

The ACLU has submitted to Santa Rosa a proposed impound policy that would prohibit towing away a safely parked vehicle, or if a licensed driver could retrieve it “in a reasonable time period.”

It would also allow, under some conditions, the vehicle to be towed to the driver’s home instead of an impoundment lot.

In a letter to the ACLU, Schwedhelm acknowledged receiving the proposed policy. Police are updating towing and impoundment policies and “will take your recommendations into consideration,” the chief wrote.

Petaluma’s next checkpoints will be on FridayJuly 16 and July 23. Santa Rosa’s next effort will be Labor Day weekend.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

21 Responses to “Protesters warn drivers of police checkpoints in Santa Rosa and Petaluma”

  1. Chris says:

    Nobody is talking about hating people from Mexico. What we are talking about is enforcing laws. If you are illegally here you should be sent home. It is that simple. If you get caught at a DUI checkpoint and you have no license your car is gone, it is the law. If you don’t like the law, leave America and come back legally and then get a license. We have laws for a reason, we either enforce them or we risk becoming no better than some third-world country many of the illegal aliens are coming from.

    And for those that want to protest and alert possible drunk and or non-licensed drivers to checkpoints I hope you read today’s paper, 2 killed by a drunk in Geyersville. I would hate to think these protestors help even one drunk or unlicensed driver sneak by, remember it could be your family you are putting at risk.

    Oh and Okie, that is the problem with people like you, you actually want and hope that America becomes a third rate nation where as most normal people want America to continue to be the shining example on the mountain top for everyone to try and emulate. Oh and as for law enforcement, funny how only those that tend to have the bad habit of breaking the law seem to have trouble with the police. I always find them to be very helpful, polite and all around nice.

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  2. akr says:

    Do we have any statistics on traffic in Petaluma in this period? I’d be inclined to guess that due to the recession that passenger miles are down, which could also contribute to a reduction in accidents.

    Just curious. I don’t really know. I know I’m driving less.

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  3. Gosh, it must be really hard on you folks: We have a black President, we’re not the “Greatest Nation in the World” anymore– we’re not hated and feared any longer, we have to live within our means like everyone else, and there’s no one left to hate but the Mexicans. The history books will recall this period as “White Backlash” and we’ve only just begun to hear about its ravaging effects. For one, its emasculating effects can be seen on Police Officers and their unconscious tendency toward brutality and sadistic behavior; losing control and a sense of the defined lines of “us and them” has left them bewildered. Elmer Fudd comes to mind.

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  4. @()() @Spiritual Guru says:

    @Spiritual Guru – “Everyone else” other than me isn’t a criminal who fits into one of those categories.

    Sonoma County law enforcement is “some of the most feared, distrusted and disrespected in the Nation”??? What polls did you forget to cite? I think they’re the most trusted and respected in the nation. :)

    @()() – I see white folks, including myself, pulled over every time I go through checkpoints. I have never once gone through and not been questioned.

    “they wave through almost every caucasian and check almost every person of color”? Since your accusations differ from what I’ve seen, you should be the one citing statistics or a video providing evidence.


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  5. ()() says:

    @()() – The thing is that they wave through almost every caucasian and check almost every person of color. Now if that isn’t racial profiling, I don’t know what is.

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  6. @()() So it’s: You are the righteous and everyone else is a Criminal? This type of insular mentality is what’s made Sonoma County’s Law Enforcement some of the most feared, distrusted and disrespected in the Nation.

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  7. @()() says:

    How is it racial profiling when they pull over EVERYONE and ask for documents from EVERYONE?

    If they are drunk, they are criminals and deserve to be arrested and have their vehicle towed.

    If they don’t have a drivers license, they are criminals and deserve to be arrested and have their vehicle towed.

    If they don’t have car insurance, they are criminals and deserve to be arrested and have their vehicle towed.

    If they are illegal immigrants, they are criminals and deserve to be arrested, deported, and have their vehicle towed.


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  8. @Robert James says:

    Was that a deliberate Parody? Or are you just a Criminial deliberately assaulting the english Language?

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  9. Robert James says:

    What part of rights, say’s you can warn a Criminial that the police are looking for him. These protesters are not simply complaining about a Law they dodn’t like. They are Criminials in the fact they are warning those who are violating the Law and helping them get away. Where are the Police they only enforce this Law when they want, or is it now ok for all of us to do this? Please Police Sgt. in Pet can you answer this?

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  10. Areyousure? says:

    Simple solution. Don’t want to feel like you are being targeted because of your race? Then follow the instruction signs that tell you if you don’t want to go through the checkpoint, go a different way!

    DUH! Dummies! You deserve to get busted if you don’t!

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  11. concerned citizen says:

    go back to mexico problem solved!!

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  12. Ben C says:

    I guess they will have to re-write the california dmv handbook so there is a clear understanding what the word “privilege” means in the english and spanish versions.

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  13. This is not a DUI Checkpoint, but an Illegal Immigrant Roundup. What we say about you in San Francisco is true— only 60 miles north but ya might as well be in Oklahoma! We would always say we made it out alive when we’d venture North for a day trip—some of us weren’t brave enough or…white enough to wander, though.

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  14. ()() says:

    My real objection here is that these checkpoints are 5% about getting drunk drivers off of the road and 95% about the racial profiling of Latinos. But my Grandparents were immigrants too. But they learned English, became citizens and got drivers licenses.

    I do not believe that it is wrong to get unlicensed drivers and unregistered cars off of the streets. All that I want is for the police actually be honest about their real goals with these checkpoints. As for the people holding up warning signs, they are clearly expressing their First Amendment rights.

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  15. Enough says:


    It’s perfectly LEGAL to drive in this state with an OUT OF STATE/COUNTRY valid license.

    So if you have a valid Mexican licence you won’t be impounded

    You can also obtain insurance with a valid licence from another state/country so enough of that excuse too.


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  16. granny says:

    it sounds to me like these people need to take up a cause that has value. To take people off the streets because they don’t have a driver’s license is a GOOD thing! Because they happen to Hispanic or illegal…means that they should be even more mindful to obey the law, because they should want to represent their culture in the best possible way. Being poor has never been an excuse to not follow the law. A speeding ticket of 250.00 is going to punish a rich person more than a poor one. There have always been injustices in the World, and to just throw up our hands and give up, will really endanger the community.
    With that logic, we should just let the convicted child molester’s live amongst the protester’s children in peace….after all they didn’t ask to have that attraction, and it’s not fair.

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  17. Hueraso says:

    Unless the ACLU is lieing (which they are known to do), the numbers show that with this program the SRPD is only busting each month one drunk and six or so unlicenced alcoholics, drug addicts, cheapskates, reckless drivers, flakes, mentally deranged, underaged drivers, car theives or illegal aliens who won’t or can’t get a drivers licence. This isn’t about the rule of law or safe streets. It’s about police overtime.

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  18. Ben C says:

    Read the DMV handbook..”Driving is a privilage..not a right”

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  19. Michael says:

    Here’s what it takes to get a drivers license in Mexico:
    A valid passport
    A “Long-term non-immigrant Visa”
    Proof of Address
    Health declaration
    A valid foreign driver’s license

    Sounds reasonable and probably more difficult than the process here (e.g. I’ve never been asked for a ‘health declaration’). Why is it that the U.S. should ignore someone’s immigration status when no other country that I’m aware of does the same?

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  20. bill says:

    these Draconian laws imply that to harm someone before they harm someone else is an acceptable social practice…..

    soon there will be driver-less vehicles on the road and the moralists will have to find some other way to practice their viciousness..

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  21. Karen Shine says:

    Nobody should be driving if they have been drinking. If there are other reasons one should not be driving, i.e. revoked license, no license, no insurance – then rightfully these folks should have their vehicles impounded. Those are the laws. As for those that suggest unlicensed drivers (of illegal residency) should be able to drive, but are restricted because of residency and immigration and may have been licensed in Mexico – I must ask onequestion “have you ever seen how they drive in Mexico?” Need I say more? It’s a crash course experience in Mexico and certainly they should not be given a license here if they cannot drive there(on top of the fact that THAT’S THE LAW). If American Citizens’ are unable to get a driver’s license if they cannot pass a test, then surely a driver’s license should not be issued just as reward for being here illegally and restricted by laws.

    I think the protesters should be cited for obstruction of law and due process.

    It’s not rocket science – it’s law. If we must abide, they must abide. If it costs $2000.00 to retain an impounded vehicle for someone that shouldn’t be driving but is living here, chances are they are earning moneys and have other subsidies given to them free of charge. Everyone has to pay the piper somewhere.

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