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Lawmakers seek mandatory license checks

April 13, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Prosecutors say Andrew Gallo was driving on a suspended license when he crashed into the car carrying Nick Adenhart and his friends. But despite at least two other traffic stops, Gallo was still on the road. Eyewitness News investigates the laws in place to protect the public from repeat offenders. State lawmakers are on a crusade to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.Andrew Gallo allegedly drove through a red light and killed three people while his license was still suspended for drunken driving. He was also on probation. Twice before the accident, Gallo was stopped and ticketed for traffic violations. Yet until this happened, police hadn't run a background check on his license that would have found the license suspension.

You might have thought that when the officer takes your license during a traffic stop there's an automatic background check. Not always. Whether the license is run at all is at the officer's discretion.

"It is something that causes me to have considerable concern -- Is the system working correctly?" said Calif. State Senator Tom Harman (R-Orange). "Let's take a look at it and let's see if we can't tighten this up a little bit."

State Senator Bob Huff represents part of Anaheim. He said he's willing to look at any policy to tighten things. Huff favors requiring an interlock device that would block a repeat drunk driver from starting his or her car. Harman, Huff's colleague on the state Transportation Committee, is looking at a mandatory records check for traffic violations.

"I'm leaning toward making it mandatory," said state Senator Harman. "How else are you going to catch somebody that's driving on a suspended license?"

The head of the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) says it's up to the officer's discretion for a reason: Running a license can be very time-consuming. He believes it should be up to the court's discretion: Start with the court, where the suspension is issued.

"I'm not terribly comfortable with the idea that it should be mandatory at the officer level," said Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, CPCA. "I think what might be more effective is a system whereby the court picked up the licenses, or some way marked them or identified them as having been flagged."

The deaths of three people may force changes in the laws and law enforcement procedures involving traffic stops.


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