New ordinance allows police to seize vehicles

RANTOUL – Rantoul police are about to get tougher on drunken drivers and drug traffickers.

Under a new ordinance that went into effect last week, police officers now have the authority to have seize the vehicles of persons arrested for drunken driving with a suspended license.

Police also will seize the vehicles of persons arrested for transporting illegal controlled substances, including powdered cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and more than 30 grams of marijuana.

"We want to send the message that if you deal drugs and transport illegal drugs in a car, your vehicle is going to be subject to forfeiture," said Rantoul Police Chief Paul Dollins.

Persons whose vehicles will be seized and towed away will have to pay a $500 fine to the village in addition to fees to the towing company before they can recover their vehicles.

If the arrested person fails to pay the $500 fine, the village would then pursue taking ownership of the vehicle, Dollins said.

"It is my understanding we would treat it as an abandoned vehicle," Dollins said.

He said the ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the village board on June 14, will provide police with additional tools to prevent these crimes and require violators to pay some of the village's costs in addressing drunken drivers who continue to drive without valid licenses and persons who transport illegal drugs.

"We frequently arrest drunken drivers whose license has been revoked or who don't have a valid license for some other reason," Dollins said. "I'm not interested in seizing cars; I just want another deterrent there to send a message to those people who drink and drive, especially those who have a previous drunken driving conviction."

Dollins said the Rantoul Police Department arrested 150 persons for drunken driving in 2004. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Rantoul's driving age population is 9,712.

Urbana attorney Bruce Ratcliffe said he is concerned about Rantoul's new ordinance.

"I think it is a bad idea because oftentimes people involved in these situations may be driving the family vehicle," Ratcliffe said. "Other individuals in the family may be penalized because of the alleged behavior of one of the drivers of the vehicle. In addition, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I'm concerned there are seizures going on at the pre-judgment stage."

Dollins said that Rantoul's new ordinance is based on one already in place for the last three years in Waukegan.

Sgt. Robert Beach of the Waukegan Police Department said he believes the ordinance has been effective there.

Beach said the department hired two full-time DUI officers when the Waukegan ordinance went into effect. Since the department began seizing vehicles, the number of DUI arrests dropped from about 1,500 three years ago to about 1,000 in 2004.

"We've had good results," Beach said. "We're getting fewer occurrences of people driving under the influence without valid driver's licenses."

In addition, Dollins said the police department will spend $30,000 to pay for and install digital video cameras on six Rantoul patrol cars to record the activities of drunken motorists to use as evidence in court.

"I don't want anybody driving drunk," Dollins said.

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