Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sobriety checkpoints: the new cash cow

A study by the University of California's Investigative Reporting Program has found that sobriety checkpoints in California generate about $40 million annually not through the arrest of suspected drunk drivers but from fees associated with impounding the cars of non-licensed drivers. Cities split towing and impound fees with the towing and impound companies.

According to the California Office for Traffic Safety, over $30 million was spent on overtime pay for officers manning the checkpoints. The bulk of this money came from taxpayers across the country as part of a grant program.

Statewide officers manning these checkpoints average seven vehicle impoundments for every DWI arrest. That ratio was 11:1 in Oakland, 15:1 in San Rafael and as high as 60:1 in Montebello. The investigation also revealed that police are seizing vehicles in predominately Hispanic cities at a rate three times higher than in cities with a small minority population.

In 2007 the state seized 15,700 vehicles at sobriety checkpoints. That number increased to 17,900 in 2008 and about 24,000 last year.

In California, towing companies must hold vehicles seized because the driver had no license for 30 days -- running up the fees for the owners of those cars who, often, have no choice but to allow the cars to be sold at auction because they cannot afford the fees. Ironically enough, a person arrested on suspicion of DWI can retrieve his car the next day.

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