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Police Checks of Cars Halted

Maywood temporarily suspends checkpoints after complaints they ensnared mostly illegal immigrants without driver's licenses.

August 22, 2003|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

Maywood has agreed to a four-month moratorium on police checkpoints, criticized by some for mainly ensnaring illegal immigrants who can't get driver's licenses.

Mayor Pro-Tem Samuel Pena and Mayor George Martinez announced the moratorium at a meeting attended by hundreds Wednesday night at St. Rose of Lima Church.

The meeting was the result of efforts by two community groups that for months have worked to organize residents in opposition to the policy.

"I honestly believe that the community basically said, 'Look, city of Maywood, your checkpoints not only get unlicensed drivers, but they also get unlicensed drivers who can't get driver licenses,' " Pena said.

"Our job ... is to make sure safety comes first."

The Police Department is short-handed anyhow, Pena said.

The checkpoints were established at 6 p.m., twice monthly, at four of Maywood's busiest intersections.

Some residents said that the checkpoints mostly caught undocumented workers, who cannot legally get California driver's licenses, as they drove home from work.

Residents also have criticized the checkpoints as a money-raising device for the city and a tow-truck operator with which it has a contract.

That company, Maywood Club Tow, earlier had agreed to release vehicles impounded at checkpoints to their owners without charge until Sept. 10.

Some residents said the four-month moratorium might be sufficient if a measure now in the state Senate -- SB 60 -- which would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, becomes law.

Marcos Hernandez, 29, a schoolteacher and member of L.A. Metro Organizing Strategy, a community organization, lauded the moratorium.

"It's a historical night, because there was a shift," Hernandez said.

"We have been working with these guys for three months to be able to show them that we have the power to organize," Hernandez said.

His group and another organization, Comite Pro Uno, also had asked city officials to declare a moratorium on the impounding of vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers stopped anywhere in the city.

On such points, Pena said more dialogue is needed to make sure the city does not compromise safety.

"I honestly think there are other things to talk about," Pena said. "The devil is in the details."

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