Report: Escondido Illegally Profits From DUI Checkpoints
Reaction To Report
Escondido City Manager Clay Phillips issued a statement on March 13: “The City made every effort to ensure the towing fees we established reflect our costs. However, to address questions raised by the media, I have asked the Finance Department to conduct a review of our towing fees. I expect I will have that review by March 29th.”
A report by an investigative journalist found that the City of Escondido, in Southern California, could be illegally profiting off of its DUI checkpoints.
In recent years, Escondido may have made several million dollars in annual profit from towing and impounding cars confiscated at DUI checkpoints, according to an investigation by Los Angeles-based independent journalist John Carlos Frey.
Undocumented immigrants without driver's licenses make up the bulk of those whose cars have been impounded at the checkpoints. Many have subsequently been deported.
Frey’s investigation found that the city increased the yearly contract fee for tow companies from $25,000 in 2004 to $100,000 in 2011. To justify that increase, Frey alleges, the city dramatically inflated its stated costs of towing cars from checkpoints.
According to city documents obtained by Frey, the city increased the stated amount of time spent by officers to tow a car from 30 minutes in 2007 to more than three hours in 2012.
Increasing program costs would allow the city to charge more for both tow contracts and for releasing a car that’s been impounded. In both cases, state law prohibits the city from charging more than their expenses for administering the program.
“We could clearly see by the way they did their own accounting that they were making money hand over fist,” Frey said.
Escondido’s DUI checkpoints are funded largely through state grants.
Speaking on KPBS Midday Edition, the chief of the Escondido Police Department, Jim Maher, denied the allegations, but also said he knew little about the bookkeeping of the program.
“We’re not trying to create money. In fact, the police don’t even want to be involved in the revenue sources," Maher said. "I don’t want my officers to be at all interested in whether or not a tow is going to generate revenue for the city. The whole point is the safety.”
In a report released on Tuesday — and based in part on Frey’s reporting — the ACLU called for an independent audit of the city’s DUI checkpoint program.