Sobriety checkpoints are back for the holidays in three cities and unincorporated parts of the county, in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision allowing police to use them again.
The first roadblock in the county since the ruling was scheduled by Laguna Beach police for Saturday night, lasting until the early hours of this morning, but police in Anaheim and Brea, as well as the California Highway Patrol, also plan checkpoints during the season.
Irvine police, who have never used roadblocks, are considering them for the holidays, Sgt. Mike Ogden said. Buena Park police may cooperate in a checkpoint with Anaheim, and Tustin police might operate one with the CHP, officials for the agencies said.
The Supreme Court in October ruled that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional if the agencies follow certain guidelines, including a non-discriminatory formula for stopping drivers (such as every third driver), safe and reasonable locations and minimal delays for drivers. Roadblocks were temporarily blocked by the court in 1986 until it made a final determination as to their constitutionality.
Local officials said they will place sobriety checkpoints only where drunk-driving accidents have occurred or where many tickets already have been issued for drunk driving.
Anaheim plans stops on five days. The first is scheduled for Dec. 18 and 19, police Lt. James Phalman said. The locations will not be announced in advance. Drivers will see a black-and-orange sign reading, "Sobriety Checkpoint Ahead," Phalman said. It will be followed by a 25 m.p.h. speed limit sign and then a stop sign at a well-lighted area.
An officer at the stop sign will glance at the car. If the driver appears to be sober, he will be waved on, Phalman said. Those suspected of being under the influence will be directed to a secondary point and then administered a field sobriety test. Those who fail will be arrested.
At all stops, there will be an opportunity for drivers to turn away, because police cannot legally force them through, Phalman said. He said officers who are trained to spot drunk drivers will cruise the city.
Laguna Beach's program, Saturday Night Alive, which was halted in 1986, now will continue indefinitely, Police Sgt. Linda Parker said. "It really depends on how successful the program is and, financially, how it works out for us," she said. "It's quite a bit to put it together."
The Laguna Beach checkpoint will operate from about 10 p.m. Saturday evenings until about 2 a.m. Sundays, Parker said.
Brea police will operate a roadblock Friday from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Carbon Canyon Road near Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Police Lt. Jim Winder said.
The CHP will operate roadblocks on county roads at least twice, and possibly four times, during the holidays, CHP spokesman Gary Alfonzo said. In addition, the CHP will discuss a plan with local agencies next week to establish a roadblock someplace within the county each night until the end of the year.
"Our aim is to inform the general public that we are out there. We are trying to reduce traffic fatalities, especially those caused by the drinking driver," Alfonzo said. "We are not going to be easy this year."
Officials of many Orange County police departments not operating roadblocks said their cost was prohibitive. And some don't find them necessary.
"We just haven't seen a need or know that they work any better than what we've done in the past," Newport Beach police spokesman Bob Oakley said. Newport has instead assigned three units to cruise the city from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. to spot drunk drivers until the end of the year, he said.
Most county cities will increase the number of officers on patrol or assign officers specifically to spot drunk drivers. A few departments won't do either.
Placentia, for example, simply will minimize officer time off, Police Lt. Daryl Thomann said.
"Our city's a little unique and different from other ones. Usually during the holidays, people leave our city and don't come into it," he said.