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Police Find Sobriety Checkpoints Helpful

October 30, 1987|LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writer

Many California law enforcement agencies, while not in complete agreement as to the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints, say the roadblocks are helpful enforcement tools and will be reinstated soon.

That means California drivers will likely find once-familiar drunk driver checkpoints cropping up around the state just in time for the holidays, when they are considered effective because of the high incidence of drunk driving.

Law enforcement agencies say the "sobriety checkpoints," as the roadblocks are called, are likely to be put up throughout the state as a result of the ruling by the state Supreme Court on Thursday that upheld the legality of the checkpoints.

Appeals Court Ruling

The roadblocks were stopped in December, 1986, by the state Supreme Court pending the decision.

"We've been waiting for the decision," said Capt. Martin Mitchell, acting police chief of Anaheim. "We'll just pull our signs out and dust them off. We'll be right back in the market again."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 31, 1987 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in Friday's editions of The Times on sobriety checkpoints incorrectly reported that alcohol-related fatalities have declined 4% this year in Los Angeles. In fact, such deaths have increased 13%, while all traffic-related fatalities have declined 4%, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

"This decision has paved the way for all law enforcement agencies to reinstitute the sobriety checkpoints, and we will be shooting for the holidays," said California Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Maas.

"In law enforcement there is disagreement as to the effectiveness of these checkpoints," said Cmdr. William Booth, spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department. "At LAPD we're sort of in the middle on the issue. But we think the decision is a good one. . . . We see a value to them, especially during the holidays."

Booth said the Los Angeles police probably will begin using the sobriety checkpoints during the holiday season.

Not 'Total Answer'

He stressed, however, that the department doesn't see the checkpoints as "the total answer."

Los Angeles police stopped 23,099 vehicles at the checkpoints in 1985 and 1986, arresting 606 people for driving under the influence, Booth said. However, alcohol-related traffic fatalities continued to rise during that time.

Alcohol-related fatalities have declined 4% this year as the Los Angeles Police Department has instituted a new field-booking system that shortens the time it takes to make an arrest, Booth said.

The arrest rate strikes at the heart of one of the principal legal issues before the court: Is it reasonable to subject large numbers of presumably law-abiding citizens to roadblocks in order to arrest a relative handful of drunk drivers?

Invasion of Privacy

Data cited by the three dissenting justices in Thursday's opinion, for example, charged that in a series of roadblocks in Missouri, 831 innocent drivers were subjected to an invasion of their privacy for every drunk driver arrested.

The California Highway Patrol, one of the most enthusiastic users of the checkpoints, screened 107,055 vehicles at 164 checkpoints on major thoroughfares and freeway access roads between December, 1984, and August, 1986, according to Maas. During that time, officers made 931 arrests for driving under the influence, he said.

However, law enforcement spokesmen stressed that the checkpoints are perhaps effective not because of the drunk driving arrests, but because they raise public awareness about drunk driving problems. Many agencies also pass out information to drivers screened in the checkpoints. They are also considered effective when used at specific problem sites.

CHP spokesman Ken Daily in Orange County said that on nights when the checkpoints were in place, considerably fewer drunks were arrested on the roads and the number of accidents fell way off.

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