Deadbeat parents in Suffolk County who owe child support are now being arrested if they are stopped for a traffic violation.
County Executive Steve Bellone and legislative and police officials disclosed the new county policy, which took effect May 27 and has resulted in 30 arrests, at a Hauppauge news conference Friday.
Under state law, licenses are suspended for any driver who has failed to pay child support for four months and did not pay within 45 days after getting formal notice.
The new police policy, which follows the lead of New York City, calls for the immediate arrest of violators, putting them in handcuffs and forcing them to appear before a judge. Before the new policy, deadbeat drivers were given a summons.
"Those who bear the financial burden of taking care of their children must live up to their responsibility," Bellone said. "And we are sending a message we take that issue very seriously."
County officials say there are currently 12,282 Suffolk residents whose licenses have been suspended for failure to make child support payments. John Meehan, chief of patrol, said the suspensions routinely come up when police officers run a driver's license history when a driver is stopped for a traffic violation. "It's not a heavy lift for us," he said.
Those with suspended licenses are being charged with aggravated unlicensed operating of a motor vehicle in the third degree, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $200 to $500 or 30 days in jail or both.
The policy was prompted after Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Oakdale) said he received complaints that deadbeat residents were ignoring both court orders and summonses for not making support payments.
"Some people game the system and walk out of family court laughing," Lindsay said. "This is aimed at people who aren't paying anything for a long time and think they can thumb their noses at the system."
Tim Sini, assistant deputy county executive, said the arrest policy will increase the leverage judges have in dealing with those who don't pay. "Putting handcuffs on someone usually changes their behavior," he said, adding that district court judges can make payment of support a condition of probation.
But Sini acknowledged the county does not yet have any data on whether the new arrest policy is improving the level of support payments. He said the administration plans to follow up with a six-month study to determine whether the policy is having a positive impact.