California DUI Checkpoints More Likely to Catch Unlicensed Drivers, Generate Huge Profits for Cities and Towns

Posted By Thomas V. Wallin || 22-Feb-2011

An investigation  by California Watch and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism last year found that sobriety checkpoints were increasingly turning into profitable operations for local police and tow companies as a result of vehicles seized from unlicensed drivers.
California DUI attorney In 2009, vehicle seizures at DUI checkpoints generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines.

Additionally, police officers received about $30 million in overtime pay for the DUI crackdowns, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety.

The investigation resulted in the following additional findings:

  • Sobriety checkpoints frequently screen traffic within, or near, Hispanic neighborhoods. Cities where Hispanics represent a majority of the population are seizing cars at three times the rate of cities with small minority populations. In South Gate, a Los Angeles County city where Hispanics make up 92 percent of the population, police confiscated an average of 86 vehicles per operation last fiscal year.
  • The seizures appear to violate a 2005 federal appellate court ruling that determined police cannot impound cars solely because the driver is unlicensed, but should do so only when abandoning it might put the public at risk (i.e., a vehicle located in a fire lane or narrow shoulder).
  • Police across the state have ratcheted up vehicle seizures. Last year, officers impounded more than 24,000 cars and trucks at checkpoints. That total is roughly seven times higher than the 3,200 drunken driving arrests at roadway operations.
  • Departments frequently over staff checkpoints with officers, all earning overtime. The Moreno Valley Police Department in Riverside County averaged 38 officers at each operation last year, six times more than federal guidelines require. Nearly 50 other local police and sheriff's departments averaged 20 or more officers per checkpoint; these operations averaged three DUI arrests a night.
If you or someone you know has been arrested during a sobriety checkpoint, contact a qualified California DUI attorney for more information regarding your specific case.