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LAPD's revised checkpoint policy could lead to unintended consequences

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

This month, the Los Angeles Police Department responded to complaints from "immigrant rights groups" by revising its policy of impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers at DUI checkpoints.  The California Watch blog has released some pretty compelling statistics demonstrating that most of the cars impounded at those LA checkpoints (and statewide) belonged to illegal immigrants.

     "Police cited 12,867 unlicensed drivers during the 2010 fiscal year, according to the data. Not every one of those motorists lost their their cars, but numbers still indicate that illegal immigrants might have accounted for as much as 70 percent of vehicle seizures at DUI checkpoints," California Watch notes. 

In the city of Los Angeles, the number of unlicensed motorists cited outnumbered those cited for a DUI by 425 to 230. The number of impounds totaled 1,008, the investigation said. With fines totaling more than $150 on average, it's pretty easy to see how the the checkpoints (almost double in 2010) are a revenue generator for Los Angeles.

As announced on March 11, the new policy at LAPD checkpoints is as follows:

     "During DUI checkpoints, officers may encounter unlicensed drivers. When these situations occur, officers will attempt to identify the registered owner of the vehicle. If the registered owner is present or is able to respond to the scene within a reasonable amount of time, the vehicle will be released to the registered owner, provided he or she is a licensed driver. If the registered owner is unlicensed, the owner may authorize release of the vehicle to a licensed driver at the scene, and the unlicensed driver will be issued a citation. When the vehicle cannot be released to a licensed driver, the vehicle will be impounded."

Although the new policy should come as no surprise given that the current Los Angeles police chief has spoken out against the Arizona immigration law, I believe that the change endorsed by Chief Beck will likely cause a number of negative consequences. While there's still a fine levied against the unlicensed driver, the new policy is seemingly a mere slap on the wrist compared to the previous consequence of having the vehicle impounded for up to thirty days, plus additional fines. 

It's not a far-fetched prediction to say that this will attract even more illegal immigrants to Los Angeles at a time when the city and the state cannot afford to support them. The city just happens to be under the jurisdiction of Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who has previously (and so far unsuccessfully) tried to obtain drivers' licenses for California's illegal immigrants.  He'd probably be sucessful now if he tried to get the measure to Governor Brown's desk.

The new policy will also likely make the job of police officers more inefficient, requiring them to play a waiting game when they encounter unlicensed drivers at DUI checkpoints. The time normally devoted to other resources at DUI checkpoints or even to other police calls could now be bogged down in locating the licensed driver of a vehicle within a "reasonable time" for vehicles not being operated by one.

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