Police in L.A. have begun staking out repeat drunk drivers’ homes in hopes of catching them violating the conditions of their probation.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News, LAPD officers involved in the pilot program are hoping to reduce the number of drunk-related car crashes. In some cases, officers have waiting for days outside offenders’ homes in the San Fernando Valley portion of the city waiting for the residents to return home drunk.
Since the program began with a five-officer task force in December, 18 arrests have been made. Forty people in the target area have three misdemeanor DUI convictions, the paper reported, and those are the people on the top of the officers’ list.
“Unfortunately, we need this kind of approach,” Valley Traffic Capt. Greg Meyer told the paper. “They might intend to comply with their probation conditions, but a lot of them are not going to be able to go along with the program.”
Officer Doug Gerst summarized the LAPD’s attitude about the offenders.
“Every one of these suspects are potential killers,” he is quoted as saying. “They’re out here with no insurance, no driver’s license. Most of them drink. They are the ones who are the most likely to take out a family.”
According to the report, the police department is planning to expand the program citywide.
“In an ideal society, we shouldn’t need folks checking up on people. But we don’t have that kind of society,” Supervising Los Angeles City Attorney Richard A. Schmidt told the Daily News. “When you put people in a 3,000-pound car and it’s aimed at someone else’s family, these repeat drunk drivers are tremendously dangerous people.”
One of the task force’s earliest arrests occurred on Dec. 17. Two officers staked out the North Hollywood home of a 65-year-old retired studio worker who had three drunk-driving convictions. He had been put on probation for five years, and his driver’s license had been suspended.
After waiting two hours, the paper reports, officers saw the man pull into his driveway and stagger out of the car. His blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly two times the legal limit for driving drunk.
Critics say the program violates the privacy of the offenders.
“Big Brother is consistently watching,” Jonathan Kelman, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in drunk-driving cases, told the L.A. paper. “Granted, no one should be violating the terms of their probation. But why now are we having Big Brother waiting at our homes for us to commit an offense?”
Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School, defended the practice.
Said Levenson, “Legally, there’s no violation of any constitutional rights if the police are out in a public space watching somebody driving. They’re being very proactive.”
The program is reminiscent of a practice in Fairfax County, Va., where police go into bars and arrest people for public drunkenness.
As WorldNetDaily reported, cops target patrons who are suspected of having one too many, taking them outside to administer drunk tests.
“[Officers] were talking to one of the guests, then physically pulled him off the barstool,” Richie Prisco, general manager at Champps bar told the Reston Times. “They were really aggressive and nasty.”
Ray Williams expressed his disgust over the Virginia program on an online message board.
“The way police are handling the drink situation is the biggest B.S. I have ever heard of,” wrote Williams.
“I lost a son (at age 16) a few years ago, and I most certainly support stopping anyone from drinking and driving. However, this police raid that seems to take place at some local bars is just totally crazy. … Are we now living in a communist environment where we are not allowed to do anything without being harassed by the military/police?”
L.A. City Councilman Greig Smith praised the stakeout program and plans to proposed a city ordinance to seize the cars of suspected drunk drivers, the Daily News reported.