LONG BEACH — Police plan to begin billing drunk drivers for the cost of arresting them, as well as for any services rendered during an alcohol-related accident.
The new program, tentatively approved by the City Council Tuesday, is one of several plans Police Chief Lawrence Binkley is considering as a way to bill wrongdoers for the cost of law enforcement.
Another proposal would charge people using the local jail under the popular weekend incarceration program; it allows prisoners to serve their sentences on Saturdays and Sundays during the daytime.
Bills for Loud Parties
Police also are considering sending bills to people who throw loud parties if officers have to return to the scene a second time, said Ed Hatzenbuhler, police administrative operations bureau manager.
The proposals shift the cost of "breaking the law from the law-abiding citizen to the law-breaking citizen. Those are dollars that the public is spending on police service," Hatzenbuhler said.
People arrested on suspicion of drunk driving would be billed $60 an hour for each officer, even if they are later found innocent in court, Hatzenbuhler said. For example, an accident requiring four officers who spend two hours each would result in a service charge of $480.
The program would bill people involved in alcohol-related incidents ranging from misdemeanor suspicion of drunk driving to injury accidents.
A state law adopted in 1985 allows cities to charge up to $1,000 in costs for a drunk-driving incident. So far, 18 cities have adopted ordinances based on the law, and another five cities are considering it, said Jerome Torres, a police administrative analyst.
Cities have interpreted the law differently. In Anaheim, for instance, police charge only for drunk-driving accidents, according to Anaheim police Lt. James Thalman. The Orange County city--about half the size of Long Beach--charges by the minute, with the rate working out to $38.40 an hour. The city collects about $30,000 a year, Thalman said.
Not All Will Pay
Long Beach expects to collect $800,000 a year, according to a memo Binkley wrote to the council. That is less than half of what the city could get if everyone billed would pay, Hatzenbuhler said, but police concede that's not going to happen because not everyone will--or can--pay the tab.
The city's General Services Department will be in charge of billing. The cost of administering the program has been estimated at between $45,000 and $74,000 a year.
Deputy Police Chief David Dusenbury said he does not expect the program to deter people from drinking and driving. "What it will do," he said, "is put some dollars in city coffers at the expense of people who are responsible."
The council is expected to give the program final approval next week. The other proposals to charge for police services do not yet have the police chief's approval, Hatzenbuhler said.
Under the weekend prisoner proposal, the city would "charge anyone who would have the ability to pay," Hatzenbuhler said. If adopted, the plan could generate about $250,000 a year for Long Beach, he said.
Actor Sean Penn's highly publicized arrangement to serve time recently in a small Northern California jail instead of in the crowded Los Angeles County Central Jail raised the issue of preferential treatment for celebrities and the wealthy. Because of such concerns, Long Beach is studying the proposal carefully, Hatzenbuhler said.
"If there was any implication that a person who paid their bill would be treated any differently, that would not be an appropriate program," he said.