What's in a name? Can the Los Angeles Police Department's new Public Inebriate Transports (PITs) be the same as the familiar B-Wagons, the large vans used to haul innumerable public drunks to jail in the old days?
Indeed they can, but with improvements that led Officer Albert Rodriguez, a driver, to exclaim: "It's outrageous. It's like going from a Volkswagen to a Mercedes."
The LAPD unveiled its first PIT at a press conference Tuesday, but the transport actually went into service last weekend in the Central City area.
For $50,900, the Police Department got a vehicle that carries nine inebriates at a time, each riding in a separate compartment with a formed fiberglass seat and a body-restraining yoke similar to the ones used at amusement parks. Each passenger space has its own door.
The PIT is the LAPD's state-of-the-art answer to objections to the old B-Wagons raised in the 1977 Sundance court decision, named for Robert Sundance, who had been arrested on drunk charges more than 300 times.
The court found that the old police vans were smelly, difficult to clean and devoid of seat belts. Nor was there any way to protect a drunk in a B-Wagon from being attacked or robbed by other inebriates.
After the Sundance decision, public policy was refocused from jailing drunks to channeling them into detoxification treatment programs. Since the decision, the number of arrests for being drunk in public has dropped from 50,000 to 4,000 a year, according to authorities.
The LAPD responded to the decision by padding its old B-Wagons, limiting the number of arrestees to 10 at a time and transporting them for no longer than 30 minutes. Drunks who became ill were taken to a medical facility.
Two more PITs, built by Specialty Vehicles Manufacturing Corp. of Santa Fe Springs, will go into service soon in the Central and Rampart divisions.
They will continue to be known as B-Wagons, an alphabetical designation distinguishing the drunk truck from patrol cars, called A units.