By JIM FREMGEN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It seems simple enough. Set uniform rules for the operation of DUI checkpoints by police statewide.
But AB 1389 by Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, is stirring controversy about his bill’s target, especially with his provision in the bill to require police to publicize the specific location of checkpoints at least two hours in advance.
DUI checkpoints have become a flashpoint among Sonoma County’s social activists because in addition to arresting a handful of DUI suspects at the checkpoints, police often arrest many more unlicensed drivers. Those suspects typically are illegal immigrants who are barred under state law from getting licenses. Often their cars are impounded for 30 days.
That’s why nearly every local DUI checkpoint has activists down the street with signs in Spanish warning of the checkpoints. Their hope is that illegals will turn away from the checkpoints before it’s too late.
Allen’s bill is getting attention:
– A front-page story in Monday’s Press Democrat had local police officials opposing Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen’s provision to give at least two hours notice of a checkpoint.
–Chris Smith raised doubts about the plan in his Tuesday column, noting Allen’s concerns of illegals having their cars impounded and losing their ability to get to work or elsewhere.
–A Press Democrat editorial Tuesday urged Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill, noting that illegals are most affected by checkpoints.
–And numerous readers of the Press Democrat’s Road Warrior blog have weighed in on Allen’s bill, many raising the issue of unlicensed illegal immigrants.
Allen was unavailable last week to be interviewed for the Monday story, so we put a call in to him to allow him to explain his position.
He said local social action groups came to him with concerns about varying enforcement at DUI checkpoints. He drafted the bill to set a statewide standard for the checkpoints based on a 1987 state Supreme Court ruling, Ingersoll v. Palmer, that allowed the DUI checkpoints if certain factors were met.
The court’s eight standards cover such matters as location, time of day, operation and public notice of a checkpoint.
“Advance publicity is important to the maintenance of a constitutional permissible sobriety checkpoint,” the court said in Ingersoll.
Allen said that in talking to police, he found they believed the standard for publicity was advisory and not mandatory.
Allen said he doubted giving the two-hour notice of a DUI checkpoint’s specific location “will deter from the effectiveness.” He questioned the effectiveness of the checkpoints in catching DUI suspects, saying studies have shown officers on patrol nab more suspects than checkpoints.
Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the state Office of Traffic Safety, which provides grants to police for checkpoints, said the Supreme Court has changed its mind on advance publicity since its 1987 Ingersoll ruling.
In 1993′s People vs. Banks ruling, the court decided advance notice wasn’t necessary as long as the DUI checkpoint met the rest of its guidelines in Ingersoll.
It’s clear from Allen’s past statements that at least part of his concern about checkpoints is over the unlicensed drivers.
When the Assembly this month gave final approval to his bill and sent it to Brown, Allen issued a statement, saying:
“On average, DUI checkpoints impound seven vehicles for every drunk driver arrest, and the number of impoundments is steadily increasing. Despite good intentions, the increase in impoundments for driving without a license creates the perception that the police are misusing their authority in order to generate revenues and are targeting neighborhoods where they are likely to find more unlicensed drivers. This undermines respect for the law and for law enforcement, which is crucial for effective community policing. Perhaps more important, by ignoring the findings of Ingersoll v. Palmer, law enforcement may provoke new legal challenges which could ultimately result in DUI checkpoints being found unconstitutional.”
Press Democrat News Editor Jim Fremgen authors the Road Warrior blog on pressdemocrat.com