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CHP Checkpoints for Drunk Drivers Set for Holidays

Times Staff Writer

The California Highway Patrol will set up two sobriety checkpoints in Orange County this holiday season, while recent court decisions have prompted Anaheim--the only city in the county to use checkpoints last year--to cancel its plans.

The first of the two CHP checkpoints will be set up somewhere in the southern part of the county on Dec. 21; the second checkpoint, in the northern part of the county, is slated for Dec. 27. The first checkpoint will be administered by the CHP’s San Juan Capistrano office and the second by the CHP’s Santa Ana office.

Despite a pending decision by the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco on the constitutionality of the CHP’s checkpoints, the Highway Patrol plans a statewide expansion of its checkpoint program, which so far has been conducted on an experimental basis in only four areas in the state: Bakersfield, Redding, Glendale and Sacramento.

Seven Checkpoints Last Year

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Excluding the CHP, the Anaheim Police Department conducted the largest sobriety checkpoint program in the state last year. Anaheim has discontinued its program on the advice of its city attorney.

Last year, Anaheim set up seven checkpoints between Dec. 14 and Dec. 31, netting an average of five drunk-driver suspects a night. Out of 6,934 motorists stopped, 44 were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

On Sept. 7, the appellate division of the North Orange County Superior Court upheld a Municipal Court ruling that suppressed evidence gathered in a drunk-driving arrest at one of Anaheim’s checkpoints.

But Assistant City Atty. Mark Logan said the judges were not specific in handing down their opinion. “We don’t know what the rulings are based on or what they mean,” Logan said. “The court could be saying that checkpoints in general are unconstitutional or it could be saying that the manner (in which) we conducted the checkpoint was deficient. We were really seeking some guidance and we ended up getting nothing.”

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Anaheim Police Lt. James Thalman said that as result of the court decisions, Anaheim would try to expand its other methods of drunk-driving enforcement, working with neighboring cities to create a coordinated campaign against drunk driving.

Departments May Join Forces

Pending approval of each department’s police chief, Buena Park Police Lt. Ken Stavely said police in Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma and Placentia would work together, “with each department communicating with the others so that drunk drivers don’t get on the street in the first place and, if they do get on the street, to make sure they’re arrested.”

Some steps the police departments will take include increasing motorcycle patrols of city streets and expanding the number of officers assigned to drunk-driving details.

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Buena Park will use money from its overtime budget to hire additional police officers to work on weekends and holidays, when the potential for arresting drunk drivers is the greatest, Stavely said.

Thalman said that “last year we saw a lot of people coming through the checkpoints with someone sober driving. We also had no fatalities last year and I attribute a great deal of that to the checkpoints. I’d say the overall deterrence value of the checkpoints is stronger, but the checkpoints are certainly not cheaper than using motor officer patrols.”

Despite the expansion of its checkpoint program, CHP officers in several jurisdictions agreed with Thalman that the major benefit of the checkpoints is to keep potential drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.

Susan Cowan-Scott, an information officer in the CHP’s Sacramento headquarters, said: “The checkpoints are not considered an enforcement tool. The philosophy behind them is as a deterrent.”

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Officer Harvey Heaton in the CHP’s San Diego division, which will coordinate the checkpoints in Orange County--said that “in terms of numbers of arrests, checkpoints aren’t really as effective as roving patrols.”

“We have noticed a decline in the number of drunk-driving accidents in relation to the checkpoints but, really, their value is more as a deterrent,” he said.

Between May and October of this year, the CHP screened 15,067 vehicles at checkpoints in Bakersfield and Sacramento. Sobriety tests were administered to 520 motorists and 155 arrests were made. For every arrest made, Heaton said, 97 cars were screened.


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