Licenses to get closer look at DUI checkpoints in Dade

Licenses to get closer look at DUI checkpoints in Dade

In a renewed effort to combat motorists who are driving with suspended licenses, police will give greater scrutiny to such violations at DUI checkpoints.

Posted on Wed, Mar. 19, 2008

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/broward/story/461900.html

BY ADAM H. BEASLEY
abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

As soon as next month, you’ll need more than sobriety to get past DUI checkpoints in Miami-Dade.

You’ll need a driver’s license that isn’t suspended.

Miami-Dade police and the Florida Highway Patrol are cracking down anew on the county’s quarter-million people driving with invalid licenses.

Under the working plan, police will look more closely at the status of the license of every driver they stop at checkpoints for driving under the influence. If they find a scofflaw, police will take that person to jail.

”There’s not enough space in the jails to arrest every illegal driver,” said Lt. Pat Santangelo, an FHP spokesman. “Plus, when you make an arrest, you’re taking a police officer off the road for a couple of hours.

“But during these DUI checkpoints, we have more manpower and bigger vans, so we’re in a better position to make arrests.”

Santangelo knows there is discontent among some South Floridians over the staggering number of drivers ignoring their suspensions.

He hears the concerns all the time. Santangelo attends meetings of the advocacy group Meeting Our Vehicle Needs, or MOVN. The group, made up of both county employees and private citizens, tries to create solutions to South Florida’s significant traffic troubles.

”This is outrageous,” said Dr. Bernardo Benes, a local banker, lawyer and vocal member of MOVN. “It’s the reason Miami has the reputation it does.”

These drivers have lost their licenses for a reason, Santangelo said — they’re terrible behind the wheel. One out of every four people stopped by an FHP trooper has a suspended license, he added.

Many have lost their license because they failed to pay traffic tickets.

Miami-Dade has a program called Operation Fresh Start, allowing those who can’t pay their entire tab in cash to cover the balance by performing community service and attending driver’s school.

”You get two or three tickets, and that’s $1,000 in fines and fees,” said Judge Steve Leifman, who has served as chief of Miami-Dade’s traffic division. “There’s a tipping point.”

But for every carrot, there must be a stick, law officers say.

That’s where the checkpoint plan comes in.

Not every suspended driver is committing a felony. Police will take to jail only habitual offenders who know — but apparently don’t care — that their license is no good.

The determination is made at the scene by the officer, who runs the driver’s record and conducts a makeshift interview.

All of this must be done on the fly, as it is Miami-Dade police protocol to hold each car for only 45 seconds during random stops.

But if officers suspect a driver is knowingly ignoring their suspension, they can hold them longer — and potentially arrest them.

In Broward County, sheriff’s deputies are also on the lookout for suspended licenses, but run background checks on a case-by-case basis, according to Jim Leljedal, a Broward Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

The plan in Miami-Dade County does have its detractors.

”We’re in a budget crisis in Florida,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. “One has to wonder whether the priority of law enforcement should instead be on robbery, rape and murder.”

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