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Police Target Suspended Drivers : Law Enforcement: Simi Valley motorists with revoked licenses may hear a knock at their door reminding them that the long arm of the law extends their way.

November 02, 1989|SHANNON FARLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Simi Valley police are making some unusual house calls these days.

They are knocking on the doors of residents with suspended or revoked licenses, warning them not to drive.

"We're letting people know, 'We know who you are,' " said Lt. John Ainsworth, who is in charge of traffic for the Simi Valley Police Department.

The officers even confiscate revoked licenses from drivers who have failed to respond to demands from the state Department of Motor Vehicles for them.

The warnings are part of a six-month pilot project designed to crack down on an estimated 20,000 disqualified drivers in Ventura County, said Bill Gengler, a DMV spokesman. The department started the program in July but only disclosed its existence this week.

Local police departments can choose how they want to target such drivers. According to Gengler and others, Simi Valley police, who have arrested more than 120 motorists on suspicion of driving with a suspended or revoked license, have been the most aggressive.

"We have a lot of people driving illegally," Ainsworth said.

Those convicted of the misdemeanor charge face a $1,000 fine and six months in County Jail for the first offense, and a $2,000 fine and a year in jail for a repeat offense.

The DMV estimates that 60% to 80% of suspended drivers continue to drive and often have "10 times the injury and fatal accident rate" of qualified motorists.

Santa Paula Police Chief Walter Adair said his officers have made double-checking licenses part of their traffic stop routine. He said their policy is effective because all errant motorists are arrested, not merely cited, for the violation.

Gengler said the DMV is mostly concerned with drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked because of drunken-driving citations. He said that since police officers aren't required to check to see if a license is valid, many times during routine traffic stops, some drivers slide through the cracks without being cited.

As part of the program, the Ventura County district attorney's office and the courts have tightened procedures for prosecuting such cases. With a new computer program, court officials have detected more than 150 violators, usually people arrested on other, more serious charges. Those cases have been sent to the district attorney's office for review, Gengler said.

The DMV will review the program in December with an eye toward introducing it in other counties.

"If it looks like it's been successful, and right now it's showing that it's a worthwhile program, then we'll continue," Gengler said.

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