A Santa Rosa assemblyman is generating a lot of controversy over his bill that would set uniform rules for police statewide in operating DUI checkpoints and that would require police to publicize the specific location of a checkpoint at least two hours in advance.
A 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, a Press Democrat editorial Tuesday urged Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill and numerous Road Warrior readers have weighed in for and against Allen’s bill, AB 1389.
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, and 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.
He said he or his staff talked to “lots of local law enforcement,” including Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm, and the CHP and he doesn’t remember the two-hour notice coming up as an issue. He said the two-hour notice is part of the CHP’s procedure manual.
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.
We also checked in with Freitas and the CHP. Schwedhelm was unavailable.
Freitas said he met with Allen in May and also doesn’t remember talking about a two-hour notice. (The two-hour notice was added to the bill on Sept. 2 in the state Senate.) But he said he opposes such notice because it would “lessen the effectiveness” of the checkpoint.
Sonoma County CHP spokesman Jon Sloat said the CHP requires a 48-hour notice of general locations of its DUI checkpoints but does not require a two-hour notice of the specific location. He said the procedure manual gives local offices the option of giving out the specific location no more than two hours ahead of time, but the Sonoma County office doesn’t.
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 said, “We conclude that the operation of a sobriety checkpoint conducted in the absence of advance publicity, but otherwise in conformance with the guidelines we established in Ingersoll v. Palmer, supra, 43 Cal. 3d 1321, does not result in an unreasonable seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
As to what Brown plans to do with Allen’s bill, it’s unknown. But Allen said his contacts with Brown’s staff indicate the governor is keeping an open mind.
In past statements, it’s been clear that at least part of Allen’s concern about DUI checkpoints is that they also catch unlicensed drivers, mostly illegal immigrants who are barred by state law from getting a license.
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.”
To read the Press Democrat story, CLICK HERE.
To read Chris Smith’s column, CLICK HERE
To read the editorial, CLICK HERE