Scofflaw drivers stalled by police

Anne Arundel targets illegal motorists who stay behind wheel

April 26, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The suburbs have drive-in restaurants, drive-in movies, and -- for Anne Arundel County police yesterday -- drive-in arrests.

Seven Pasadena residents -- their licenses taken away after convictions for driving drunk or under the influence of drugs -- nonetheless drove themselves to the local police station for appointments with probation agents. They were surprised when they were arrested for it.

"I don't believe this," said one man who drove himself to the Eastern District station for weekly alcohol monitoring. He found himself arrested for driving with a suspended license and got a ticket for parking in a handicapped space.

The driver told police he didn't know his license had been suspended. But motor vehicle records showed that he turned his license in to the medical advisory board more than a year ago, after a drunken driving conviction.

It should have taken another man less than 10 minutes to check in with his probation officer and verify his attendance at alcohol treatment classes. Instead, the 38-year-old was arrested and charged with driving with a suspended license.

"I had no idea my license was suspended," he said from a holding cell. "I didn't pay a fine."

Police said the drivers were required to report to probation officers at Eastern District as part of their sentences, but should not have driven themselves there.

"They shouldn't be driving anywhere," said Eastern Cpl. Robert Buckingham, who is credited with proposing Maryland's first sting operation targeting suspended drivers in 1997.

Those arrested represented a relatively small percentage of the drivers who reported to probation agents yesterday. In previous checks around the state, as many as half coming in after convictions for DWI or DUI offenses drove to a police station without a license, said Harold Rohrback Jr., the Division of Parole and Probation drunken driving monitor supervisor, who has helped expand Anne Arundel County's operation into a statewide program.

With assistance from the Motor Vehicle Administration, county police departments and the state probation department target suspended drivers in various jurisdictions every few months.

Last month in Dundalk, 17 percent of 101 people reporting for alcohol monitoring drove into a police station with a suspended license. In Ellicott City last year, the rate was 49 percent.

"For the most part, they're high-risk drivers -- repeat DUI and DWI offenders, very few first-time offenders," Rohrback said. "They've proven they can't drive safely. A large part of the road to recovery is to get honest about their problems. But driving on a suspended license is not a policy of honesty. And it's a violation of their probation."

Since 1997, when Anne Arundel County police first began arresting suspended drivers as they reported to probation officers, there have been 356 drive-in arrests of probationers around the state.

On average, 25 percent of those reporting for alcohol monitoring drive themselves to the police station with suspended or revoked licenses, Rohrback said.

Many people get behind the wheel on Maryland roads after a license is suspended or revoked, Rohrback said, but driving to a police station under such a circumstance "shows a lot of moxie."

Anne Arundel police have plenty of examples. During the first operation, one DWI convict who had no license drove to the station for his probation appointment, parked in the captain's spot and later told reporters he didn't have enough money to take a cab. Police say they found $60 in his wallet.

Another suspended driver drove in with a bag of marijuana on the front seat.

Yesterday's operation lasted from 10 a.m. to about 5 p.m., with officers watching the parking lot and checking arrivals against a list of probationers and MVA records.

An MVA field agent with a portable computer checked license tags and drivers' records as one police officer stood at the front window with binoculars and others sat in patrol cars.

Those arrested appeared before a court commissioner and most were released on their own recognizance.

Maybe next time, they'll think twice about driving with a suspended license, Buckingham said.

"The object isn't to arrest everyone," he said. "It's to have everyone get a ride."

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