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Oakland joins cities that won’t impound at DUI checkpoints

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Oakland is now abstaining from impounding unlicensed drivers’ cars – and from the hundreds of thousands of dollars the controversial seizures generate a year.

Without fanfare, the Oakland Police Department revised its impound policy late last year so that motorists caught driving without a license won’t automatically lose their vehicles for 30 days, multiple news outlets have reported. Officers going forward will allow such drivers, an overwhelming majority of them illegal immigrants, to park their cars in a legal spot or have a licensed driver remove the vehicle.

An investigation by California Watch and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism last year found that sobriety checkpoints across the state were increasingly turning into profitable operations for local police and tow companies because of these impounds. In 2009, vehicle seizures generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines from checkpoint seizures.

Often, the operations would result in very few DUI arrests and dozens of cars impounded from unlicensed drivers.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday that Oakland towed 2,058 cars from unlicensed drivers, netting the city $288,120 in impound fines.

At Oakland’s checkpoints in 2009, police seized 11 vehicles for every one drunken driving arrest, data from the California Office of Traffic Safety shows.

That disparity spurred immigrants rights groups to lobby cities to soften impound policies. Activists argue checkpoints are now targeting illegal immigrants, not intoxicated drivers.

They also sometimes leave families stuck on the side of the road, walking miles home at night. Oakland Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente emphasized that point in his comments to the Bay Area News Group this week:

The purpose was to get drunk drivers, or people with warrants or with guns, but the unintended consequence was most of the drivers who got cited were unlicensed immigrant drivers. I remember one night last fall on Foothill Boulevard and 34th Avenue, about 29 cars were impounded. One was a family with a baby in the back, and they had to walk home.

California law forbids illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.

Under a different section of the state’s vehicle code, the law stipulates that if police impound an unlicensed motorist’s vehicle, they are to hold the car for 30 days. That hold generates more than $1,000 in tow storage charges for each car.

Oakland’s policy change brings it in line with the Bay Area’s two other largest cities on car seizures. The San Francisco Police Department instituted a policy in late 2009 granting unlicensed drivers 20 minutes to find a licensed motorist to legally move the car.

San Jose is enacting a similar policy, as have the police departments in Baldwin Park, Coachella, Cathedral City and Berkeley.


Filed under: Public Safety, Daily Report


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impoundguy's picture
"an overwhelming majority of them illegal immigrants" Of course "illegals" have to have "special consideration" because they are here "illegally". Not sure what part of "illegal" is legal, but it's nice to know if you are illegal you don't have to play by the same rules the rest of us do. When they T-bone you in an intersection and they don't have a drivers license get ready to pick up the tab for the damage to you and your vehicle, because they sure as hell won't have insurance....

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