Checkpoints for Sobriety to End, L.A. Police Say

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Department, which has been using Friday night roadblocks for four months to snare drunk drivers in the San Fernando Valley, said Friday it will end the practice because it is not working.

"You got to get your best bang for your buck and, simply put, we're not," said Sgt. Dennis Zine, who helped institute the checkpoints.

The statistics tell the story. Zine said.

From New Year's Eve, when the first "sobriety checkpoint" was established on a busy street in North Hollywood, through April, alcohol-related traffic deaths in the Valley increased 280% over the corresponding period last year. During that period last year, three people died in alcohol-caused traffic accidents. This year, 10 people have died.

Even arrest figures are down this year. In the four-month period last year, 2,215 motorists were arrested in the Valley for being drunk, contrasted with 1,625 this year.

Major injuries caused by drunk driving from January through April increased from 53 last year to 66 this year.

Zine blamed a lack of publicity and the geography of the Valley as the two biggest factors in the project's failure.

"We thought we'd get more publicity, and we thought that would help deter drunk drivers," Zine said. "But we're not getting the ink, and people aren't paying attention."

Checkpoints have been established along busy thoroughfares between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The location has changed every week and is kept secret until officers begin staffing them.

Operating a checkpoint requires at least 30 officers, and "throwing that much manpower and resources at one location just doesn't cut it," Zine said.

Police usually arrest 15 to 20 drunk drivers during a roadblock's operation, although 85 were arrested at one roadblock in January, he said.

The weekly practice will stop after next Friday night, and police will revert to their traditional method of keeping drunk drivers off the street: flooding a given community with up to a dozen patrol cars.

However, police said, they are not ruling out setting up occasional sobriety checkpoints in the Valley.

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