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Escondido Official Says City Should Reassess Contracts With DUI Checkpoint Tow Operators

Aired 4/4/12 on KPBS News.

The ACLU says it is more concerned than ever that Escondido has been illegally profiting from the controversial checkpoints.

— Escondido's finance director has recommended the city reassess the amount it charges tow companies that want to impound the cars of drunk or unlicensed drivers caught during the city's controversial DUI checkpoints. The recommendation comes amid questions about whether the city has been illegally profiting from the checkpoints.

The city receives state grants for the checkpoints, but state law prohibits it from profiting from them.

But the fee the city charges several tow companies for the right to seize cars at the checkpoints has ballooned -- from $25,000 each in 2004 to $75,000 this year -- even as the number of impounded cars has decreased.

The ACLU has questioned whether the city is inflating its costs to justify the higher fees. The organization and Latino activists have long accused Escondido of using the checkpoints to target undocumented immigrants.

In a memo released Friday, Escondido finance director Gil Rojas said the city has not taken in more revenue than the checkpoints have cost. But he did say that balance "cannot be sustained due to the current trend of decreasing impounds."

He said the city should therefore reassess the fees it charges tow companies.

In a statement, the ACLU questioned Rojas' accounting and said it included several omissions. The statement said the organization was "now even more concerned that there are financial shenanigans involved."

The ACLU has demanded the city open its books to an independent auditor.

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