Indep. Police Stage Roadblock To Check Driver's Licenses
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Indep. Police Stage Roadblock To Check Driver's Licenses

ACLU Questions Legality Of Stopping Drivers

July 15, 2004/ The Kansas City Channel

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Police in Independence conducted a driver checkpoint on Thursday, but it wasn't to look for drunken drivers. For about an hour Thursday afternoon, officers stopped vehicles to make sure drivers had valid licenses. But some are questioning the legality of holding such a checkpoint. Independence police have arrested more than 1,300 drivers this year for driving without a valid license, KMBC's Jim Flink reported. On Thursday, police stopped about 300 drivers on a busy street.

Independence Officer Tom Gentry said drivers without licenses pose a safety concern. "It's a public safety issue. On public highways, you don't want illegal drivers out there who might pose a grave danger," he said.

But Gentry added there are other reasons for wanting to make the stops.

"People who don't bother to get their driver's license or get them renewed -- usually that's an indicator of other problems as well," Gentry said.

Independence officers issued 10 tickets on Thursday, and they also arrested four people on outstanding warrants and one person for possession of narcotics and drug paraphernalia.

But Dick Kurtenback, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he's troubled by police stopping drivers for this type of search.

"This bothers me -- they're conducting general searches without probable cause," he said. "I think the problem there is they're changing some essential aspects of this country's character, and I think it's troublesome that they're doing that."

Kurtenbach said the searches may violate people's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. Some drivers with whom Flink spoke agreed.

"For public safety, I think it's all right. But it does kind of bother me, in the sense that I think it's an invasion of my personal liberty," driver T.K. Shiao said.

But motorist Jan Huff-Soper thought police were doing the right thing.

"It sounds like they have a lot of people driving without licenses, and I would hope people driving out there would have valid licenses," she said.

Police said the number of arrests this year proves the roadblocks work. The police department is basing its use of checkpoints on a Supreme Court case that allows DUI roadblocks in the interest of public safety.

Kurtenbach said drivers without licenses aren't inherently dangerous, even if they are breaking the law.

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