By Heather MacDonald - STAFF WRITER - Sunday, September 26, 2004

Oakland police halt DUI checkpoints
Immigrant activists say roadblocks discriminate against those without licenses

OAKLAND -- Oakland police officers have stopped setting up roadblocks to check whether drivers are under the influence because of a rash of complaints from the Latino community and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.

The checkpoints, which allow officers to demand licenses and proof of insurance, are an effective way to get drunken drivers off Oakland's streets, city leaders agree. But the checks also have ensnared dozens of illegal immigrants who are not licensed to drive yet otherwise obey the law.

"These checkpoints make people's lives miserable, not make them safer," said Jesus Rodriguez of Oakland Community Organizations, which filed most of the complaints about the checkpoints. "I've watched while the police have towed away cars (full) of groceries, leaving children crying on the sidewalk."

The complaints and pressure from De La Fuente, who represents the largely Latino Glenview-Fruitvale district and plans to run for mayor in 2006, prompted police Chief Richard L. Word to order his officers to hold off on any more DUI checkpoints while new guidelines are drafted.

"The checkpoints are a great tool for law enforcement," Word said. "We'll develop a better focus on drug hot spots and stopping sideshows."

However, the month-long moratorium on checkpoints has outraged Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland), who calls the change a threat to public safety.

"It is absolutely insane to stop these checkpoints," Reid said. "I would not want to explain to a mother why we stopped doing these checkpoints when we know they work and her son or daughter was killed."

Reid also criticized elected officials for "micromanaging" the police department, although he did not single out De La Fuente for blame. Reid and De La Fuente are usually on the same side of issues before the council and recently worked together to propose a measure to raise taxes to hire more police officers.

The new checkpoint guidelines, which are not final, may call for police to notify Latino community organizations of the time and location of coming checkpoints. The checkpoints will be held after the evening rush-hour commute and rotated throughout the city, officials said.

"It's simple common sense," De La Fuente said. "You don't want to stop people going to or from work. If there are kids in the car, give someone an opportunity to call someone to pick up their kids rather than create chaos."

Legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants who submit to background checks to apply for a California driver's license was vetoed this week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both Word and De La Fuente supported the legislation.

While officers have some discretion, the cars of unlicensed drivers are usually towed. To get their cars back, owners must pay $125, plus any storage fees. That is a significant burden to many illegal immigrants, Rodriguez said.

Reid said he has little sympathy with Rodriguez's position.

"I don't care if they are illegal immigrants," Reid said.

"They should not be driving on our streets without a license, without insurance. I expect the Oakland Police Department to do its job and get them off the street."

The council is expected to take up the issue at its Oct. 19 meeting.

E-mail Heather MacDonald at hmacdonald@angnewspapers.com .


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