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Escondido Checkpoints: Why We Protest
Since August of 2010, protestors have gathered together in Escondido whenever there is a checkpoint conducted by Escondido Police Department. Beginning with four people in August, the numbers have grown quickly with each checkpoint and totaled 35 at the last checkpoint on October 23, 2010.
While the majority of drivers show support for the demonstrators, there are some drivers who ask, “Why?” Here’s why:
The Escondido Police Department (EPD) accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants each year to pay for the checkpoints. According to Federal legislation, any profits received from the grants must be reported and rolled over into the next grant year in order to reduce costs to taxpayers. This isn’t being done. (Link to Federal legislation, see section 18.25.)
The City of Escondido accepts yearly payments totaling $400,000.00 from tow companies to perform services at each checkpoint. The current grant Escondido Police Department received totals $268,000.00. If profits were reported, no grant would be necessary, and the majority of the next year’s costs would already be paid for.
**The new contracts between the city of Escondido and the tow companies now total $450,000.00**
Where is the money going?
The money that is accepted by the city of Escondido is going directly into the city's general fund. This fund is used to pay salaries and benefits for city employees, to include city council members and police department staff.
Driver’s License Screenings:
In California, it is illegal for an officer to stop a vehicle for the sole purpose of determining if a driver is properly licensed; however, this is done at every checkpoint. Drivers without a valid license may have their vehicle impounded for 30 days (intoxicated drivers are able to retrieve their vehicles the next day). The cost to retrieve the vehicle is $1380.00, paid to the tow companies. If the car is not retrieved in 45 days, the tow companies are allowed to proceed with selling vehicles at auctions. This is why the tow companies pay the City of Escondido 100K each to provide services. (Link to California's law.)
As you can see, it is in the best interests of the City of Escondido to continue to allow the police department to screen for driver’s licenses, conducting itself above the law, in order to maintain tow contracts.
It is apparent by viewing the results of each checkpoint that some drivers are merely given a citation and allowed to drive home. For example, On August 28th a checkpoint was conducted by EPD resulting in 29 vehicle impounds. Included in this number (or not included) were 27 for no driver’s license and 8 suspended licenses, totaling 35 vehicles that should have been impounded, rather than the 29.
These results, and others that are similar, indicate that impound laws are selectively enforced at checkpoints. It should also lead people to ask who decides which vehicles get impounded, which vehicles don’t, and what this decision is based upon.
Additionally, in April of 2009, John Gardner, who raped and murdered Amber Dubois (and later raped and murdered Chelsea King), was stopped by police a few blocks from where Amber Dubois went missing. He was given a mere citation for no driver’s license and having an open container of alcohol. Why wasn’t his vehicle impounded?
Hours of Operation and Location:
Most surrounding cities begin checkpoints at 8:00 pm and end at two or three in the morning nabbing drunks coming home from bars. EPD conducts its checkpoints beginning at six in the evening, often, close to a freeway exit nabbing drivers coming home from work. EPD ends checkpoints usually at midnight, when bars are still open and parties are still in full swing.
Additionally, EPD routinely ignores the side of town where the mall is located, as well as numerous restaurants that hold happy hour. It is the upscale area of Escondido.
City council members are quick to spout off statistics that indicate DUIs in Escondido are high. However, according to the Office of Traffic Safety, the entity that funds Escondido's checkpoints, DUI arrests in the city of Escondido are low. This should leave little doubt that Escondido's checkpoints target cars rather than DUIs.
If that isn't enough telling information, OTS also indicates that nighttime accidents (from 9:00pm to 3:00am) in Escondido ranks high, year after year. This is why checkpoints in Escondido should begin later than the usual 6:00 start time. This is also why checkpoints in Escondido should end later than midnight. If the target is really DUI drivers, the hours of operation for checkpoints should be during these nighttime hours like most cities throughout the country.
To see these statistics for yourself, you can click on OTS's link here.
Escondido Police Department employs the use of three ICE agents. Days after a checkpoint is conducted, ICE agents and law enforcement stake out homes to take into custody people they believe to be illegal immigrants, even those without a criminal record. Escondido has had its own version of Arizona’s SB1070 for years.
According to Escondido Police Department, the checkpoint conducted on October 23, 2010 resulted in this information: 1593 vehicles drove through the checkpoint and 1450 vehicles were screened. Legislation indicates that every vehicle should not be screened (since the number of impounds have decreased, the police must seek revenue by any means possible) and that a method must be used to select vehicles to be stopped, such as every third vehicle, every fifth vehicle, etc., rather than leaving it up the officer in the field.
Additionally, warning of the upcoming checkpoint is supposed to be made visible to drivers, and escape routes are mandatory for drivers who wish to turn out of the checkpoint. Officers, patrol cars, and volunteer patrol cars are not only sitting in the streets intimidating drivers who may want to turn, but nab drivers who turn out of the checkpoint. On several occasions the escape routes have been blocked entirely.
Yet another money issue. Before vehicle owners are able to retrieve their vehicles, Escondido Police Department requires everyone to pay a fee of $180.00 claiming that the City of Escondido paid for the cost of the tow. This is not correct. The contracts between the tow companies and the city allow the tow companies to charge $150.00 as an impound fee. Additionally, the city is already collecting 400K from the tow companies. Over 100K in these fees has been collected by the Escondido Police Department in the last year. Where is this money going? (Link to impound fee from EPD.)
City Council’s Refusal to Address the Issues:
Not only do we not know where the profits are going, but at least two council members have accepted campaign donations from tow companies that provide services at checkpoints. There is reason for city council not to oversee the police department: MONEY!!! There is reason for city council to allow the police department to run amuck and continue to abuse its power and cause a loss of faith and mistrust among members of the community: MONEY!!!
****The Escondido Police Department received a much needed donation at the end of 2010--bullet proof vests. While the City of Escondido reaps in more than a million dollars a year in profits (courtesy of the police department), it left the city's police officers high and dry when it came down to protection.****
There is no avenue for complaint or investigation. Both the city and police department would handle any complaints and both are in bed together. There is no citizen’s review board. There is one local newspaper serving this small town of 145,000 people. News stations are more than 30 miles away and seem to be uninterested in a city seemingly full of corruption, because it is such a small community. Local government continues to fly below the radar, and we intend to change that.