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DUI's culture gap

DUI's culture gap

Latinos in S.J. account for disporportionate amount of arrests

Rick Brewer
Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, May 21, 2006

STOCKTON - Augustine Mercado didn't know he was in trouble until officers slapped the handcuffs on his wrists.

He also didn't realize he represents a major traffic enforcement problem nationwide.

Mercado had just left a West Lane strip club the night before New Year's Eve when he was stopped at a drunken-driving checkpoint. As an officer peered into the 31-year-old man's bloodshot eyes, Mercado admitted he had been drinking with friends and relatives.

He stammered through the alphabet backward and wobbled seven steps heel-to-toe in a not-so-straight line. Then he blew into a Breathalyzer - and his blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.14 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. He was too drunk to drive.

"I didn't want to go out and drink tomorrow, because it's New Year's Eve, and I knew they would be looking for more people," said Mercado, a father of two from Mexico who works as a chef at Santa Clara University. "But they pulled me over tonight."

Approximately 2,000 Latino men like Mercado were arrested in Stockton between 2000 and 2004 on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. They accounted for at least 54 percent of all DUI arrests in Stockton, according to the Police Department, although Latinos make up just 35.3 percent of the city's population, based on the latest estimates from the California Department of Finance.

In 2004 alone, police arrested 4,242 people on DUI charges in San Joaquin County, according to the California Department of Justice. Latinos accounted for 46.8 percent of the arrests but only 33.1 percent of the county's population. In Stockton, 59 percent of the 883 DUI arrestees that year were Latino men, the highest percentage of any city in San Joaquin County.

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