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Study Examines Statewide DUI Checkpoints, Including LAPD's

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Cars along Lankershim Blvd. at a checkpoint on New Year's Eve 2009 in the NoHo Arts District | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist

Cars along Lankershim Blvd. at a checkpoint on New Year's Eve 2009 in the NoHo Arts District | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist
If you read LAist, you know DUI checkpoints are almost a weekly activity for the LAPD. Now a new report by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley with California Watch has revealed the operations to be profitable for cities while raising legal questions. The profit comes from impounding vehicles from unlicensed drivers (not as in if you left it at home, but as in you never were given one by the DMV or it's suspended).

According to the report, the "LAPD averaged six DUI arrests per checkpoint in 2009... more than most California departments.... the LAPD’s driver’s license impounds doubled the past two years. One operation in December netted 64 vehicle seizures and four drunken driving arrests."

On average, 35 officers work the checkpoints. "At least a dozen officers spent hours sitting and chatting at an operation in early January in downtown Los Angeles," the report stated. "A couple of officers smoked cigars as they watched cars go through the screening. Officers seized 22 cars that evening and made one DUI arrest. The state data shows that last fiscal year LAPD spent $16,200 per checkpoint, all of it on officer overtime," which is funded by state grants.

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But the legality of the seizure of private property without a court order is being challenged right now at the 9th Circuit of Appeals, as it is a fourth amendment issue. Even state lawyers, who have no control over law and only can make recommendations, say seizing a vehicle is murky territory. “If a peace officer lawfully stops a motor vehicle on the highway and the driver of the motor vehicle is an unlicensed driver, that alone is not sufficient justification for the peace officer to cause the impoundment of the motor vehicle,” the California Legislative Counsel wrote in 2007.

Additionally, Martin J. Mayer, the lawyer who represents the California Peace Officers Association, agrees. However, his clients don't and Mayer actually received death threats over his legal opinion.

Related: LAPD Chief Beck on Publicizing DUI Checkpoints: Bring It

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