Sobriety checkpoints in some cities have increasingly become profitable operations that are far more likely to seize cars from unlicensed – and often illegal immigrant – motorists, than to catch drunken drivers, reports the New York Times. The newspaper quotes the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California Berkeley as finding that last year, impoundments at checkpoints generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines in California. Cities typically divide the revenue with towing companies.
What is an economic benefit for strapped cities comes at a cost to taxpayers. In the last fiscal year, $30 million was authorized to pay overtime for officers working on the drunken-driving crackdowns. That money came from federal taxpayers through the California Office of Traffic Safety. While the checkpoints do catch some drunken drivers, the police manning them are also leaving sober but unlicensed drivers on the side of the road, with no hope of regaining their vehicle for at least a month. Perry Shusta of the California Tow Truck Association said two-thirds of the impounded vehicles were never reclaimed and were sold at lien sales.