Police say roadblocks aimed at spotting drunk drivers will be a frequent sight this year, after a successful tryout during the holiday season.
Long Beach police began setting up safety checkpoints in December, shortly after the state Supreme Court decided 4 to 3 that stopping motorists does not violate their constitutional rights.
"We won't let up on this at all," said Police Cmdr. Charles Parks, who is in charge of the traffic enforcement division.
During eight checkpoints last month, police netted 64 drunk drivers, Parks said. In the process, he said, officers stopped "thousands" of motorists. He noted that there were no alcohol-related driving fatalities in the city during the holidays. In December, 1986, there were five alcohol-related or drug-related traffic fatalities, according to Lt. Philip King.
"I think everyone is very conscious of this effort," Parks said. "They're more careful of the way they drive and they're less inclined to drink and drive."
The response to the roadblocks, also used to check for equipment violations and give out safety information, has been positive, Parks said. "People said, 'You have a good program going. Keep it up.' "
The checkpoints are part of a crackdown on drunk drivers that began in 1987 as a way to stem accidents. Police say they will continue those and other efforts to deal with drinking drivers this year.
Police Chief Lawrence Binkley in March set up a four-member "DUI Team" whose sole job is to look for those driving under the influence. From March 27 through the end of the year, the team arrested 406 people for drunk driving, Parks said. During the same period in 1986, police--without the special team--netted fewer than 100 drunk drivers.
The department hopes to buy a van equipped to test suspected drunk drivers, Parks said. With a mobile station officers would save time and reduce the crowds at the police station by dispatching the van wherever it is needed.
Police also have experimented with a program in which an alleged drunk driver, who is not wanted for another crime, is released to a responsible sober person instead of going through the booking process at the Long Beach jail. The alleged drunk driver would be released on the spot and saved from spending time in jail waiting to be released on a bond.
Motorists can also expect to see the "wreck of the month" during the year. The car smashed the worst each month will be displayed in prominent spots as a grim reminder of what could happen in a drunk-driving accident.
"We want to participate in an educational process," Parks said. "The way we're going to win this battle against drunk driving is through education."