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Officer Kevin Millan from the City of Miami Beach police department instructs a woman how to walk the white line during a field sobriety test at a DUI checkpoint December 15, 2006 in Miami, Florida. According to police, the woman failed a breathalyzer test by blowing into the device and receiving two readings one at .190 the other .183, which is twice the legal limit in Florida. The city of Miami, with the help of other police departments, will be conducting saturation patrols and setting up checkpoints during the holiday period looking to apprehend drivers for impaired driving and other traffic violations.
Groups such as Mother’s Against Drunk Driving extol the benefits of police sobriety checkpoints. They help get drunk drivers out from behind the wheel. But evidence is surfacing that some cities, notably now infamous Bell, have been turning checkpoints into cash cows. The strategy is to impound cars of illegal immigrants and then charge hundreds of dollars to get them back—cities often end up selling the cars because the fees can’t be paid. An investigative piece by California Watch calculates that last year California cities made $40 million in towing fees and fines from impounds at checkpoints. Are cities exploiting checkpoints as a revenue source? Or is the money beside the point if they’re saving lives?
Ryan Gabrielson, reporter for California Watch, wrote an extended feature on this issue that was published in The New York Times
Chris Cochran, spokesman and assistant director at the California Office of Traffic Safety