Wait 'Til Bloomberg Hears About This!


The unloved South L.A. County town of Maywood has an interesting method for making its annual seven-figure budget. According to an outraged Frank del Olmo in the Los Angeles Times, Maywood cops set up rush-hour roadblocks on the two main freeway-alternative drags, and check every driver's paperwork. Since there are plenty of illegal immigrants driving without valid licenses, and expansive confiscation laws, the dragnet enables the city to impound the vehicles and then auction them off after 30 days. According to del Olmo's statistics, the operation is clearly designed as a grab for property and money, not as a method for catching and prosecuting criminals.

Maywood officials told me their town (just over one square mile, population 28,000) has earned about $1 million over the last 3 1/2 years from its share of the fees and fines. [?]

Last year, Maywood police impounded more than 1,800 cars at such roadblocks, intercepted seven drunk drivers and arrested eight other suspects, [Maywood Police Chief Bruce] Leflar wrote [to a state legislator], making the traffic checkpoints "a success."

NEXT: Maximum Bob

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  1. You can set a roadblock almost anywhere and catch unlicensed cars. The other afternoon my car rebelled on me and I was seated in the median divider at Santa Monica and La Cieniga and was casually counting the expired tags. I was astounded at the number, I’d say at least 25% of the vehicles were unregistered. That’s a lot of cars going on a relatively affluent route. One can assume they are all uninsured too.

  2. I don’t want to live in a country where government officials can detain you for any or no reason and ask:

    “I vould like to zee your papers.”

    /german accent

    But I think I will eventually. I wonder if any drive that takes more than 10 minutes will eventually involve some sort of checkpoint like this. After all, if you’re not doing anything wrong, what’s the problem . . . ?

  3. FDO: “Maria began slowly sobbing as…”

    LW: “Hey, Frank!”

    FDO: “… the jack-booted Gringo Anglo storm-trooper took the car that they’d saved for…”

    LW: “Frank! Yo, Frankie! See the sign?”

    FDO: “What sign?”

    LW: “The one right there. Big neon letters. You know, the flashing sign right in front of you?”

    FDO: “I don’t see a sign.”

    LW: “Frank, there’s a friggin’ sign right in front of you. It’s a neon sign. It’s flashing.”

    FDO: “What? Oh, that?”

    LW: “Yeah, Frank, that. The friggin’ neon sign that says “They’re here illegally.”

    FDO: “So? Who cares?”

    LW: “Well, Frank, maybe they shouldn’t be here if they’re here illegally.”

    FDO: “But, if they can’t drive, they can’t go to their jobs.”

    LW: “But, see, Frank, maybe if they’re here illegally, then they shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

    etc. etc. etc. etc.

    In addition to that point:
    1. I think it was declared OK to make a U-turn before a road block. Apparently, those who were stopped were making illegal U-turns.
    2. I realize Slauson and Atlantic are major streets, and I’ve probably driven through Maywood several times without noticing it. However, perhaps people should just stop visiting Maywood and patronizing businesses there. That might send a message.
    3. I don’t like roadblocks or impounding either, but see #2.

  4. James Thurber wrote about French versions of pulp Westerns. Here’s my favorite:

    “There were, in my lost and lamented collection, a hundred other fine things, which I have forgotten, but there is one that will forever remain with me. It occurred in a book in which, as I remember it, Billy the Kid, alias Billy the Boy, was the central figure. At any rate, two strangers had turned up in a small Western town and their actions had aroused the suspicions of a group of respectable citizens, who forthwith called on the sheriff to complain about the newcomers. The sheriff listened gravely for a while, got up and buckled on his gun belt, and said, “Alors, je vais demander ses cartes d’identit?!” There are few things, in any literature, that have given me a greater thrill than coming across that line.”

  5. Good example of the problems of mixing the Guardian and the Commercial (per Jane Jacobs)

  6. “Cervantes ? a former preschool teacher in Mexico ? is an illegal immigrant with no California driver’s license.”

    Maybe she should go back to Mexico and apply for legal permission to enter the USA?

    Naaaaaaaaaaa, that would put a kink in the on-going re-conquest of the SW US.

  7. Through sheer absent-mindedness, I let my inspection lapse, and I got busted in a Philadelphia “Live Stop” roadblock. Actually, it was Friday night traffic to South Street; the police didn’t even have a “roadblock”, they just checked stickers on every car as it cruised by at 2 miles an hour. I wasn’t the only one, let me tell ya.

    Since I was registered, insured, and had a license, the car wasn’t impounded (the otherwise defining feature of Live Stop); I had to have the inspection done within 10 days and appear in court to prove it… and get my fine. My hour in Traffic Court was nothing if not participatory municipal theatre, with ceremony, dramatic monologs, and costume (far more so than a “right turn on red” ticket I went to a small town court for).

    Must be the week for traffic confiscation stories:

  8. Keith: this editorial is only superficially about traffic stops.

    Everyone: This editorial is actually a two-parter: the second part is due Monday.

    However, through the miracle of the Internet, I know what’s in the second part, and I’m going to share it with you today. Check it out here.

  9. Sounds like unreasonable search and seizure to me.

  10. It’s stuff like this that makes people hate cops. I guess there could be some kind of law passed saying that cities of less than 50,000 people can’t perform roadblocks of this nature, but that would be a band-aid solution.

    What could have a real effect is having organizations like AAA (called the “Auto Club” in California, just to be annoyingly different) or Rand McNalley redline such places on their printed maps. Imagine the changes that would happen if such maps had places like Maywood overprinted in a light red tint and an accompanying legend saying:

    “The Auto Club suggests that drivers avoid city streets in this area because of overzealous traffic enforcement.”

    That will not happen for AAA because AAA makes lots of money from advertising, possibly including advertising from Maywood, despite its very high membership prices.

  11. This is so sad. Whats happening in this country?
    Jefferson observed that freedom is rarley lost all at once. If these outrages are allowed unchallanged they will surley get worse. Sue the Maywood police department and chief Leflar!

  12. Joe:

    This editorial is an attempt to piggyback concern about the traffic stop onto concern about immigration. You get angry about the traffic stop, and you transfer that anger onto the people who took the illegal alien’s car. It’s a mind game, and you fell right into it.

  13. From United States v. Huguenin
    1998 FED App. 0256P (6th Cir.):

    The Supreme Court has made it clear that persons stopped for any purpose at motorist “checkpoints” set up by government officials on public highways have been seized for Fourth Amendment purposes. Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, 450 (1990); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556 (1976).

    In order for a checkpoint seizure to satisfy the constitutional requirements of the Fourth Amendment, it must be reasonable under the circumstances. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996).

    Whether a particular checkpoint seizure is reasonable is determined by the balancing test established in Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979). Sitz, 496 U.S. at 450. The test weighs the “gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty.” Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. at 50-51.

    In considering the severity of the intrusion on individual liberty, the court must consider both the objective intrusion of the seizure the duration of the stop and the intensity of any brief questioning and visual inspection that might attend it and its subjective intrusion its potential for generating fear and surprise to law-abiding motorists. Sitz, 496 U.S. at 451.

  14. And I’m pretty sure a police checkpoint in California is required to have an established turnaround point — at which drivers can, after seeing a warning about the checkpoint, opt out with a safe and legal u-turn. So all of those u-turn tickets written by the motorcycle cops may very well be illegal.

    Rather than simply writing about how unfair the Maywood checkpoint seems, and how badly it made him feel, Frank del Olmo might have picked up the phone and called a few DUI lawyers who know traffic checkpoint law. This story seems ripe for reporting — it’s a shame he couldn’t work up the energy to do any.

    It would be good to see someone use the California Public Records Act to get a copy of the Maywood Police Department’s formal checkpoint policies and guidelines…

  15. del Olmo: “The roadblock created a sizable traffic jam, even by L.A. standards. Cars, trucks and MTA buses were backed up two blocks in one direction and half a mile in the other, into the City of Commerce. A Maywood police officer blocked each of the four traffic lanes, stopping every motorist and asking to see a driver’s license.”

    Federal traffic safety administration “model policy” on checkpoints (specifically sobriety checkpoints, but still applicable common sense):

    “Site Selection – Planning should assure the safety of the general public and law enforcement officers when selecting an operational site. Sobriety checkpoints must not create more of a traffic hazard than the results of the driving behavior they are trying to modify. Planners should remember to select a site that allows officers to pull vehicles out of the traffic stream without causing significant subjective intrusion (fright) to the drivers (United States v. Ortiz 422 U.S. 891 (1975)) and/or creating a safety hazard, e.g., by creating a traffic backup…

    Most jurisdictions have the capability to review the Average Traffic Volume (ATV) during the surveillance period for major roadways in their area. Once a jurisdiction has decided on possible locations for the sobriety checkpoints, the effect on traffic flow can be determined by ascertaining how long each interview takes, then, multiplying that time by the number of available officers, and finally, dividing that figure into the average number of vehicles which can be expected at that location. This will suggest whether all vehicles can be examined without causing a traffic build-up. If the traffic volume precludes stopping every vehicle, a nondiscretionary scheme should be adopted, in advance, for stopping some subset of vehicles.

  16. When a boot stomps on a human face, you shouldn’t ask where the face was born before you decide how you feel about it.

  17. Wastin’ pigs is still radical.

  18. “When a boot stomps on a human face, you shouldn’t ask where the face was born before you decide how you feel about it.”

    (A) Not all law enforcement is boots stamping faces. I note a distinct lack of actual violence in these traffic stops (although the violence is always latent in “law enforcement,” there is a great difference between actual and latent violence).

    (B) Perhaps you shouldn’t ask where the face was born, but it strikes me as having some relevance whether the face was violating the law.

    (C) That said, the whole notion of law enforcement as revenue source is deeply corrupting.

  19. Sheesh, the cops are stopping unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured drivers.

    What next? Busting folks for wife beating, shooting pistols in nightclubs, killing limo drivers, and arresting rapists?

    Wait a minute, are we talking about Southern California, or the NBA Summer League here?

  20. “Sheesh, the cops are stopping unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured drivers”

    No, the cops are stopping every single driver that comes down the road, demanding their papers, and seizing their property if everything isn’t in order.

    ” Perhaps you shouldn’t ask where the face was born, but it strikes me as having some relevance whether the face was violating the law.”

    Sadly, they’re the same thing.

  21. I’ve long argued that the development of the automobile and the airplane, both being concepts that the Founding Fathers could never have conceived of when framing the Bill of Rights, have done more to erode everyday civil liberties for Americans than anything else. This article, along with the prior one posted by Matt, act as further evidence to this claim.

  22. joe – Do I take it from your last comment that you are a proponent of completely unrestricted immigration?

  23. Like sprawl/pollution problems, Eric, it isn’t the development of the car that caused the problems, but the way it was integrated into society. Defining driving legally as a privilege, that one is always free to opt out of, is fine, except that society has been organized, functionally and geographically, to make owning and driving a necessity to achieve a reasonable quality of life. Thus, carrying out activities that are necessary to live one’s daily life (going to work, buying food, getting to school) now puts one in a position that allows a higher level of state imposition into an individual’s affairs.

  24. Eric,

    A third factor is the rise of the modern corporation and a “workforce” working mainly for other people. To a nation of self-employed tradesmen and mechanics, and family farmers, the possibility that someday most laborers might be required to piss in a cup as a condition of employment, or put up with personality profiling by HR departments, would be unimaginable.

    To some extent, these things are the result of technology itself. But to a very large extent, they are the result of the state’s intervention in the economy, centralizing and concentrating capital far beyond what would have been the case in a free market, and stacking the deck against small business and self-employment.

  25. I always find it a perfect point to display America’s blatant stupidity that driving a car, a skill a monkey could probably develop without much trouble, is considered a “privelege”; while voting, which one hopes would entail the abilities to read, think, comprehend, interpret, analyse, and reason is considered a “right” and not subject to any skills testing, as if all voting takes is the ability to pull a lever or punch a hole.

  26. RC,

    Of course not. Immigrants should be registered and subject to a background/database check, and if there is a good reason to keep a certain individual out (serious criminal history, terrorist connections), he should be kept out.

    Generally, I don’t think the government should screw with you without a damn good reason – and being born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border is not a damn good reason.

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