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LVPD buckles down on motorists

Amanda Larsh
Assistant News Editor

The La Verne Police Department was busy last Saturday night and Sunday morning as officers conducted a DUI checkpoint on Towne Center Drive, with the hope of making the streets safer for drivers.

Overall four people were detained for police questioning, including one for DUI at the checkpoint and one they caught trying to avoid it.

Officers also stopped but did not detain four with suspended licenses.

“This particular checkpoint is through the Office of Traffic Safety and basically we had to fill out a grant from and request the money,” said La Verne Police Sgt. Dave Mortazavi.

The checkpoint did not cost the city because the LVPD received a $52,000 grant to pay the officers, Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Command Center, essentially a mobile police station, and tow trucks.

Numerous reserve officers and volunteers also were on hand to assist the officers.

“To put on one of these, there’s a whole criteria of things we have to do,” Mortazavi said. “There are management classes, and even this cone pattern is a safety precaution we have to set up a certain way. We have to have the computer out here to do background checks and the reports.”

Many theories circulate about how to avoid being picked in a checkpoint, but most of them end up being incorrect.

“In the past they’ve had it where they select every so many cars, but typically our checkpoints stop every car,” said Cpl. Steve Figueroa with the LVPD.

“Some tell-tale signs are their breath, obviously, their eyes, how they’re acting, open beer cans or simple admissions. From there we’ll proceed into the field sobriety test to determine how impaired they are.”

While the checkpoint was aimed at catching drunken drivers, the Police Department also caught drivers without licenses. Because of a 2011 state law to protect immigrants, police are no longer allowed to impound the cars of those without licenses who are stopped at a checkpoint.

“Most of our issues out here are licenses, either they’re suspended, or they don’t have one or they’re expired,” said LVPD spokesman Bill Witzka. “But we are targeting the impaired drivers, trying to get them off the streets because they’re the ones out there killing people, hurting people.”

“If we determine they’re impaired to the point they’re a danger to the public we take them to the station… They have to submit to a breath test or a blood test,” Figueroa said. “You have an option of breath or blood. If you refuse both we just document it as refusal. You’re still being arrested, and the DMV automatically suspends your license. There’s no question about it.”

When arrested for driving under the influence, drivers are taken into custody where they are booked, fingerprinted and photographed. From there, they are held until they have sobered up, at which point they are released with a ticket and a court date.

First time offenders face up to six months in jail if convicted, an additional license suspension for at least four months, installation of an ignition interlock device, DUI programs and fines no more than $1,000.

Under state law is a driver is arrested for DUI four times in a 10-year period, the crime is elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony with a possible sentence of up to a year in state prison.

“Hopefully it’s a lot of awareness so the public knows that we’re out here looking for people that are under the influence,” Figueroa said.

“It’s really calm tonight,” Figueroa said during the Saturday checkpoint. “Previous checkpoints we’ve had four-to five-people that we’ve arrested just from the checkpoints. Considering the area, it’s a pretty decent standard.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every day in America 28 people die as a result of drunken driving crashes, and drunken driving costs the United States $132 billion a year.

If you have to ask yourself if you’re OK to drive, then you’re not, Mortazavi said.

If you see someone you think may be driving under the influence, call 911.

Amanda Larsh can be reached at amanda.larsh@laverne.edu.

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