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Wrong Turn - Escondido Checkpoints and Impound Practices Examined, ACLU, 2012

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Wrong Turn

Escondido’s Checkpoints and Impound Practices Examined

Written by Cynthia Buiza and Homayra Yusufi, with invaluable
investigative information provided by John Carlos Frey.
Published March 13, 2012.


Escondido’s Checkpoints and Impound Practices Examined
Executive Summary
Checkpoints are a hot button issue throughout California. Several cities, including Los Angeles,
Oakland, and San Francisco have changed their checkpoint and impound policies in response to
concerns about the intrusive nature and ineffectiveness of these policies. But while many California
cities conduct sobriety checkpoints, the City of Escondido has implemented one of the most extreme
checkpoints and impound policies in the state. Wrong Turn details the motivations that appear to
have led the city’s government and law enforcement officials to embrace these onerous tactics:
checkpoints and impounds bring millions of dollars into city coffers and serve as a warning and
threat to undocumented individuals and those in mixed-status families.
The State of California’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) funds the DUI checkpoints in Escondido. The
grants pay for equipment and officer salaries during the checkpoints and are intended to help make
Escondido roads safer. Because the City of Escondido has established a formal association between
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)1 agents and the Escondido police department, the
checkpoints have now become de facto immigration checkpoints as well.
This report includes new information uncovered by
documentary journalist John Carlos Frey raising serious
The DUI checkpoints,
concerns that the City of Escondido may be illegally profiting
from tow fees, tow contracts and grants received from
intended to reduce impaired
California’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). Specifically, in
order to avoid distorting financial incentives, state law
driving, have become de facto
requires cities to charge tow companies no more than the
actual costs of the city’s expenses involved in administering
immigration checkpoints.
towing. Escondido’s calculations of its actual expenses
have skyrocketed since 2004 and include creative and
unlikely expenses. In addition, the taxpayer funded grants Escondido has received to conduct DUI
checkpoints require the city to roll forward any profits made from its checkpoints. Despite likely
profits, Escondido has not done so.
An independent audit of the City of Escondido’s towing revenues and costs may be the only way to
determine if the City of Escondido owes taxpayers and the Office of Traffic Safety that manages the
grants millions of dollars from unreported profits generated from tow fees.
Escondido police officers routinely ask for a driver’s license without checking for sobriety or other
safety issues, thereby circumventing the intent of guidelines established by the Supreme Court of
California to protect against the arbitrary use of police power.

Until recently, the vehicles of unlicensed drivers stopped at checkpoints in Escondido were subject
to a mandatory thirty-day impound. Assembly Bill 353, recently signed into law by Governor Brown,
now allows unlicensed, sober drivers who are pulled over at sobriety checkpoints to find a licensed,
safe driver to remove the car to another location before the checkpoint ends. The law states that only
the registered owner of the vehicle may authorize a licensed driver to remove the car. It prohibits law
enforcement from seizing vehicles at checkpoints solely for failure to have a driver’s license.
However, the law only applies to stops at checkpoints. Vehicles stopped in other circumstances are
still subject to thirty-day impounds in Escondido. Although the new law is a positive development,
it remains to be seen whether jurisdictions like Escondido will find a way to circumvent the law or
increase impounds in other locations. For example, one concern is Escondido’s practice of stopping
drivers who have turned away from checkpoints and impounding their cars.
The intent of sobriety checkpoints and subsequent
impoundments is to stop dangerous drivers. Cities that
Cities that use checkpoints as a use checkpoints as a pretext to detain undocumented
immigrants and seize their vehicles exploit the intent of
pretext to stop undocumented the laws and court decisions allowing checkpoints. Cities
Escondido are seizing the vehicles of sober drivers,
immigrants and seize their like
many of whom are from low-income families and cannot
to get the family’s sole form of transportation back.
vehicles exploit the intent of afford
The loss of the vehicle may jeopardize the jobs of multiple
laws allowing checkpoints. family members who depend on that transportation. Some
community members are susceptible to deportation as a
result of these encounters; losing a loved one who is also a
wage earner or caregiver can wreak havoc on a family and destabilize not only a home, but the entire
fabric of the community.
In addition, to the extent Escondido is using DUI checkpoints to enrich the city would in violation of
state or federal laws, the practice risks further damaging public trust in law enforcement. Public
respect for law enforcement is vital to ensuring that individuals will not be afraid to report crimes of
which they are victims or witnesses.
Wrong Turn lays out the negative effects of Escondido’s policies on low-income immigrant families,
businesses and the community in general. It details burgeoning fees being collected because of
enhanced checkpoints and impounds. And, it makes the following recommendations.
If the City of Escondido will not abandon its tainted checkpoint and impound programs, it should:
1.	 Adopt and adhere to the Ingersoll Guidelines established by the California Supreme Court
to weigh public safety concerns with individuals’ right to privacy;
2.	 In order to achieve the desired effect of preventing drunk driving, increase advance
publicity and education about checkpoints and impounds;
3.	 Provide independent accounting of its OTS and other taxpayer-funded revenue and
program costs and make this information easily available to the public; and
4.	 Work with state lawmakers and community organizations to advocate for driver’s licenses
for undocumented immigrants, which will lead to safer driving and increased insurance
coverage, as they have in New Mexico, Utah and Washington.

A History of Checkpoints and Impounds in Escondido
Escondido has been conducting sobriety checkpoints and license checkpoints since at least
2004.2 While checkpoint supporters argue that they are purely a safety measure, opponents of the
checkpoints object to their use as a targeted attack on the immigrant
community. Others believe that checkpoints are necessary and good
for public safety but that Escondido is unfairly profiting from the
exorbitant impound fees.
The skepticism and controversy surrounding checkpoints can be
explained partly by the city’s recent history of adopting policies
targeting immigrants. In 2006, the city council passed an ordinance
that would have made it illegal for landlords to rent apartments to
undocumented immigrants.3 Landlords would have been forced
to question prospective tenants about their immigration status
and would have been subjected to penalties, including the loss of
their business licenses, if they were found to be in violation of the
law. Although the law was successfully challenged and stopped
in court by the ACLU and others, it sent a very clear message about the
Escondido City Council’s attitudes and agenda with respect to immigrants.
Speaking in support of that ordinance, Councilwoman Marie Waldron blamed illegal immigrants for a
long list of ills in Escondido:
Make no mistake about it, it’s our local hospital that has to deal with an overcrowded
emergency room…. It’s our local police force that has to deal with drugs, gangs, and
street crimes caused by illegal immigration…. It is our public works department that
has to deal with cleaning up the graffiti on our streets and the impact of overcrowding
on our wastewater system and infrastructure. And, sadly, it is our very children who
have to attend overcrowded schools and be threatened with exposure to the countless
diseases…including drug resistant T.B., Chagas Disease, even leprosy….4
In January 2007, the city council adopted Resolution No.
2007-16 by a three-to-two vote, which stated, “City Council,
as the duly elected governing body of the City of Escondido
wishes to address the public nuisances of illegal immigration
by aggressively working to prohibit and address acts, policies,
people and businesses that aid and abet illegal aliens.”5

Councilmember Waldron
blames immigrants for
drugs, gangs, overcrowded
wastewater systems...and
spreading leprosy.

Jim Maher was appointed Escondido Police Chief as the
rental ordinance debate was unfolding. Under his direction,
the Escondido Police Department (EPD) has taken the lead
in the city’s effort to target undocumented immigrants. In
March 2010, the Escondido police began an unprecedented collaboration with the federal Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called “Operation Joint Effort,” which stationed first two and
eventually four ICE agents in the Escondido Police Department. One of the stated purposes of the
partnership is to get criminal undocumented aliens and individuals with previous deportation orders
out of Escondido.6 Initially, ICE agents rode along in EPD squad cars, demonstrating Escondido’s
complete and misguided conflation of its responsibility to protect public safety and federal authorities’
responsibility to regulate immigration.


This direct relationship creates a significant incentive for EPD to engage in racial profiling, i.e. to stop
and question people based on an outdated view of who appears to be “foreign.” Although ICE officials
no longer ride along in EPD squad cars, they work from the EPD station.7 According to Maher, ICE
agents remain on call during checkpoints. If a driver cannot produce a state issued driver’s license or
any other form of U.S. government identification, ICE is notified to run a background and immigration
check on the individual.
Maher said, “Unlicensed drivers who are suspected of being illegal will have a background check
done on them by ICE. We keep ICE on call during the checkpoint.” Asked how one is “suspected of
being illegal,” the chief’s Hispanic Outreach Liaison, Leticia Garduno responded, “If they don’t have
a driver’s license, they are suspected.” According to Garduno and the Chief, “if you drive through a
DUI checkpoint in the City of Escondido and you do not have a driver’s license and cannot produce any
other form of U.S. government ID, you will have ICE agents checking your immigration status.”8
Maher states that only “criminal aliens” will face detention by ICE agents, “and if someone is just in
the country illegally, without committing a crime, they
will get a citation and be let go.” Maher said, “We are
The Chief of Police cannot only interested in deporting criminal aliens. Those that
prior criminal records, prior DUIs and prior formal
tell ICE who they can and have
deportation orders from the federal government.”9 Lilia
a prominent immigration attorney in San Diego
cannot deport. ICE wants to Velasquez,
and counsel on a number of cases from Escondido said,
apprehend all immigrants. “ICE is interested in apprehending all undocumented
immigrants. The Chief of Police of Escondido cannot tell
ICE who they can and cannot deport.”10
— Immigration Attorney Lilia Velasquez
Escondido has distinguished itself in adopting antiimmigrant policies and programs. It is an outlier in the region. It is in the context of unusual and
persistent anti-immigrant practices that the city’s use of checkpoints and impounds must be analyzed.

Fast Cars, Quick Revenue: Tracking the Money Trail
Newly uncovered documents raise serious questions about whether Escondido has sought to profit
financially from checkpoints and impounds and is violating state law prohibiting such profiteering.
Impounding vehicles at checkpoints has generated enormous revenue for California cities—an
estimated $40 million in 2009 alone, according to the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley
and California Watch.11 These funds are generated from the towing fees, daily storage charges,
grants from OTS and vehicle forfeitures. The report found that many car owners cannot afford the
hefty costs to recover their vehicle. After 45 days, the towing company is allowed to sell the car in
order to pay for the accrued costs. Many cities have contracts with towing companies and receive a
certain percentage of the profits made by the towing companies—additional incentives for both the
city and towing companies.12 According to investigative journalist John Carlos Frey, car auctions,
managed and run by several different tow companies operating out of the City of Escondido are held
every week and up to 100 cars can be sold in one day.13
In Escondido, as in most cities across the state, sobriety checkpoints are funded by DUI Enforcement
and Awareness grants from the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) under the title of DUI/Driver’s License

Checkpoints.14 Traffic Safety Checkpoints are funded by the Escondido Police Department.15 The DUI
Checkpoints are intended to make roads safer by educating the public about the dangers of impaired
driving while the traffic safety checkpoints are intended to make sure that vehicles are properly outfitted
with required and properly functioning safety equipment such as seat belts and full-tread tires.
For the period of October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011, OTS awarded the EPD $268,564 for DUI/driver’s
license checkpoints and DUI saturation patrols.16 In addition to OTS funding, Escondido also receives
an average of $70,000 from the Safe Transportation and Research Center for DUI checkpoints.17 The
revenue generated from tow fees, state grant programs and tow contracts are over $800,000 a year.
There are legitimate concerns that, once Escondido realized there was money to be made in towing
and impounding vehicles, it sought to maximize its profits in violation of state law.
The City of Escondido cannot, by law, profit from its contracts with tow companies. The contract
fees paid by tow companies to the city must be justified as reimbursable expenses only. There are
several tow companies on a call list for EPD. In order to be able to tow cars for the City of Escondido,
a company must pay a contract fee. In 2004, the fee for a tow company to do business with the City
of Escondido was $25,000 per year based on the City’s calculation of reimbursable expenses.18 Four
tow companies paid a total of $100,000. In 2007, the calculation of reimbursable expenses doubled.
That year, tow companies began paying $50,000 each.19 In order to be legal under state law, this
steep increase would have to be accounted for and justified. According to John Carlos Frey,the City
of Escondido needs to explain and back up its implausible calculation of expenses, given the doubts
raised by documents he has obtained from his sources. It must explain how expenses doubled from
2004 to 2007 in order to charge the higher fee.
Escondido also distinguished itself in its number of impounds, for which Escondido receives fees separate
from the towing company contracts: From 2005 through 2007, Escondido impounded 1,243 cars, compared
to 296 in Oceanside and 205 in San Marcos.20
In the past seven years of state-funded DUI checkpoints, the tow companies likewise made hundreds
of thousands of dollars. According to the Chief of Police, “The checkpoints probably caused a greater
number of cars being impounded.”21 In 2007, EPD studied the possibility of starting its own city-run
tow company in order to keep all the profits that were going to the tow companies.22 On average, 5,000
vehicles were towed each year.23 Each one represented a tow
fee, a tow hitch fee, and, if negligent or in violation of Vehicle
The City of Escondido cannot,
Code 14607.6,* a thirty-day impound fee.

by law, profit from towing
In 2011, Escondido’s calculation of reimbursable expenses
again increased dramatically, and the tow contract fees were
contracts. But in the span of
again doubled. Six tow companies started paying Escondido
$100,000 each.24 It is worth repeating that tow companies
just a few years, tow companies
went from having to pay the City of Escondido $25,000 in 2004
to $50,000 in 2007 to $100,000 in 2011—all based on the City’s saw annual contracts rise from
calculation of supposedly actual expenses associated with
the same basic activity of administering a checkpoint and
$25,000 to $75,000 in 2011.
impound program. After a near revolt by the tow companies
in 2011,26 the tow contract fees were reduced from $100,000
per company to $75,000 per company.27 Even with the adjustment, the revenue for Escondido from tow
contract fees alone went from $100,000 in 2004 to $500,000 in 2011.
Vehicle Code 14607.6 is explained in the section titled “Traffic Safety Checkpoints.”


Investigative journalist John Carlos Frey also uncovered documents purporting to justify the City’s
reimbursable expenses. These documents raise serious questions of possible fraud or padding of
expenses. According to these city records, Escondido has increased labor charges, administrative
fees and overhead costs by 500% or more since the last 2007 contract. Line items that were not in
previous calculations now appear as expenses in the 2011 cost estimates, including costs for the use
of bulletproof vests and weapons.28
The documents also suggest creative efforts to increase labor costs associated with towing, including
a four-fold increase per tow in sergeants’ time, a 45-fold increase per tow in officers’ time, and
the addition of a third officer devoting an inexplicable ninety minutes per tow. From 2004 to 2010,
Escondido expenses to tow a vehicle included two minutes of billing time per tow for a sergeant and
one minute of billing time per tow for a lieutenant. According to 2004 and 2007 reports, each tow took
a total of 33 minutes.29 In 2011, those costs supposedly increased to 7.5 minutes of billing time per
tow for a sergeant and 45 minutes per tow for an officer, as well as the addition of a third officer as
mentioned above.
The overall time that Escondido is attributing to each tow has increased from 33 minutes in 200430
to 187.5 minutes in 2011.31 This increase includes a six-fold increase in billing time due to EPD’s
claim that 51% of tows result in an arrest,32 and arrests require more time to process and more
officers.33 According to tow companies in Escondido, however, less than 5% of tows end in custody
arrests. “There is no need to bill for so much time to tow a vehicle even if there is an arrest,” said
Marc Ramirez, a retired sergeant who handled traffic
safety for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
From 2004 - 2007, EPD invoiced “Either Escondido is looking to pad their books or they
don’t know how to tow a car. If it took my officers that
every vehicle, we would have no officers on
for 33 minutes billing time per long to tow

tow. In 2011, the department
said it now devotes a credibiltystraining total of 187.5
minutes processing a tow.

In addition to collecting fees from tow companies—
now $450,000 a year35—and collecting funds from
the state of California in the form of grants to run the
checkpoints—now at approximately $400,000 a year,
Escondido, until recently, collected an additional $180
for each towed car from the owner of the vehicle.
Drivers who got their car towed in Escondido had to pay
the city a tow fee of $180 in addition to the amount they pay the tow companies, despite the fact that
taxpayers were already funding the costs of the checkpoints that generated many of these tows.
Perhaps realizing the risks of its profiteering, Escondido recently reduced tow fees for vehicles
towed from the checkpoints from $180 to $100. According to the regulations governing its state
grants, Escondido was legally required to report any profits to the state and use those funds to offset
expenses in subsequent tax-payer funded grants. Escondido did not do so. The city has not explained
why fees went from $180 to a $100. Why is there a charge at all if the state is paying for the entire
checkpoint? An independent audit of the City of Escondido’s towing revenues and costs may be the
only way to determine if the City of Escondido owes taxpayers and the Office of Traffic Safety that
manages the grants millions of dollars from unreported profits generated from tow fees.


Practice Makes Imperfect: How Checkpoints Are Conducted in Escondido
According to its own Escondido Police Department Operational Orders, checkpoints are meant to be
conducted in the following manner:

Currently DUI checkpoints in Escondido net about ten unlicensed drivers for every drunk driver and the
vast majority of unlicensed drivers are undocumented immigrants. The EPD website discloses that the
checkpoints conducted from December 2010 to the end of June 2011 resulted in 189 vehicle impounds
but only 14 DUI arrests, substantiating concerns that the checkpoints are more about impounds, which
disproportionately affect low income, immigrant families and generate significant income for the city.
During this same period, EPD cited 44 individuals for driving
with a suspended license and 153 individuals who “did
not have a driver’s license.”36 The EPD’s statistics do not
distinguish between suspended license citations due to
individuals having never been issued licenses and drivers
with expired, revoked or restricted licenses. This distinction
is important, because a significant number of “unlicensed
drivers” have licenses from other jurisdictions or were
unable to renew their licenses due to a change in regulations
in 199437 prohibiting undocumented immigrants from
obtaining licenses without proof of legal residency.38

DUI checkpoints net about
ten unlicensed drivers for
every one drunk driver.
In six months, 189 cars were
impounded, but only 14
DUI arrests were made.

The EPD website also states that two Traffic Safety Checkpoints
conducted in March and May of 2011 resulted in eleven vehicle impounds and no DUI arrests.39 In total,
checkpoints in Escondido from December 2010 until the end of June 2011 have resulted in 200 vehicle
impoundments but only 14 DUI arrests.


According to Lieutenant Chris Wynn, former head of the traffic safety program for the Escondido
police department, checking of driver’s licenses at DUI checkpoints is mandatory. “They must check
for driver’s licenses and intoxication together in order to qualify for state grants.” However, an OTS
spokesperson said, “There is no ’requirement’ per se…we do not penalize a grantee for not checking
a driver’s license.”40 The truth is Escondido has discretion whether to check for driver’s licenses at
sobriety checkpoints. According to Bill Flores, resident of Escondido and retired assistant sheriff for
the County, “The checkpoints disproportionately target undocumented immigrants and brown people.
It is a way for the police department to make it so hard for them to live here that they will move
somewhere else.”41
OTS and the Escondido police state that the DUI checkpoints
Checkpoints are a way for the are effective as alcohol-related injuries and impaired driver
accidents are down. A closer look at data from Escondido
police to make it so hard for raises doubts about that. Alcohol-related traffic injuries
increased during several periods when DUI checkpoints
immigrants and brown people were in full swing. A rise in alcohol related injuries occurred
from 2004 – 2005 and, according to OTS, “A slight rise in
to live here that they move away. injuries is seen from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2007 to
2008.” Only in the last couple of years has there been a
— Former assistant sheriff Bill Flores downward trend according to Escondido’s own reporting.
Several states in the country, such as Washington,42 Oregon,
and Texas do not allow DUI checkpoints, and their alcohol-related accident rates have also been
dropping year after year.43

Nowhere to Go, Nowhere to Drive:
The Impact of Checkpoints and Impounds on Escondido Residents
Escondido’s checkpoints and exorbitant impound fees most harshly impact low-income immigrant
families. But, they also directly hurt many business owners and other residents and, not
inconsequentially, the image of the city.
Immigrants and Low-Income Families
High fees resulting in losing one’s car is a major setback for many individuals and families, not just
low-income immigrants. In some cases, a person must wait as long as thirty days before retrieving his
or her car. Many families rely on only one vehicle to commute to work and take their children to and
from school. Many low-income individuals cannot afford the cost to retrieve their car, or their cars
are worth less than the cost of retrieving it after thirty days, which can run as high as $1,380 ($150
impound fee, $180 city towing fee, and $35 per day storage fee).44 In such situations, individuals have
no choice but to forfeit their vehicles, stripping families of their main source of transportation and
their economic mobility.


Across the state, two-thirds of the cars impounded are never reclaimed and therefore sold by the
towing companies, according to the California Tow Truck Association. Tow company workers have
reported seeing mothers arrive at the impound lots to retrieve car seats and toys. An office manager
told a New York Times reporter, “I have to stand here for days and watch them take their whole life out
of their vehicles.’”45
The heart-breaking impact of checkpoints on immigrant families in Escondido was illuminated by Ali
Gonzalez, an Orange Glen High School student who wrote an article in the school paper describing

the economic burden on low-income families and the community’s perception of the checkpoints and
impound policies. The article quoted a senior at the high school, “My uncle was deported because of
these checkpoints and all he was doing was coming home
from work. I hate the checkpoint. I truly believe that they
“Either Escondido is looking
were as racially motivated just as much as is motivated by
money.” Laura Hernandez, another student, remarked, “I
to pad their books or they don’t
think it’s really unfair that they’re making money off the
checkpoint that are supposed to catch drunk drivers but
know how to tow a car. If my
instead just deports people.”46

officers took that long, we’d

Businesses Located Near Checkpoints
Fieldwork conducted by the ACLU shows that some
have no officers on patrol.”
businesses located near checkpoints are negatively
impacted by the checkpoints. For example, when
— Marc Ramirez, retired sergeant, SD Sheriff ’s Dept.
checkpoints are conducted near Fig Street and Lincoln
Avenue, many businesses in the immediate plaza experience
a marked decrease in their revenue. At this location, the parking lot adjacent to the plaza is used
for secondary inspection and the plaza’s main entrance on Lincoln Avenue is closed. Some of
these businesses report that their customers, most of whom are immigrants or family members of
immigrants, do not go to the plaza when a checkpoint is being conducted or when they see indicators
of one to come, such as portable toilets for on-duty officers. Businesses reported a drop in sales as
early as 2 p.m. when portable toilets, the earliest signs of the checkpoints, are installed.
Public Backlash and Community Safety
EPD’s checkpoints and impound policies, coupled with its unique Operation Joint Effort, do not help
Escondido’s image, which is widely perceived as hostile to immigrants and Latinos. City Councilmember
Olga Diaz has stated that, like Arizona, which has lost millions in tourism revenue due to its antiimmigrant policies, Escondido is hurting itself.47
The combined effect of Escondido’s policing policies
is to generate fear, not to promote public safety.
The checkpoints and Operation Joint Effort do not
stop individuals based on their risk to public safety.
Operation Joint Effort, which generated over 650
arrests between May of 2010 through July 2011,48
has included stops for minor traffic violations such
as tinted windows and an unlit taillight.49 Similarly,
checkpoints sweep in everyone in their path, and often
safe drivers do not have a license. A report by the
National Immigration Law Center found that driver’s
license restrictions cause immigrants to avoid contact
with state and local law enforcement, resulting in
immigrants becoming unwilling to report crimes and
assist local law enforcement in community policing
Despite its assurances otherwise, EPD’s policies
prioritize policies that disproportionately harm
immigrants and stand in stark contrast to the
jurisdictions around it.

Legal Framework of Checkpoints and Impounds
Sobriety Checkpoints
The legality of checkpoints under the Fourth Amendment rights was questioned in Michigan Dept. of State
Police v. Sitz (1990). In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that sobriety checkpoints, if conducted in
a certain manner, are legal and do not violate the Fourth Amendment.51 Although the stops at sobriety
checkpoints constitute a suspicionless search and seizure, the Court noted that Michigan had an
important interest in deterring drunk driving and that this method could reasonably be found to advance
that interest.52 Taken in balance, the State’s interest outweighed the private interest against suspicionless
searches and seizures.53 In his dissenting opinion, Justice William Brennan argued, “That stopping every
car might make it easier to prevent drunken an insufficient justification for abandoning the
requirement of individualized suspicion.”54 Justice John
Paul Stevens, who also dissented, argued that the net effect
The combined effect of
of checkpoints on traffic safety is minimal, and even if they
were effective, conducting them would not justify violating an
Escondido’s policing policies is individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

to generate fear, not to promote
public safety.

Although the Supreme Court held in Sitz that sobriety
checkpoints were generally consistent with the Fourth
Amendment, sobriety checkpoints were subsequently
challenged in California in Ingersoll v. Palmer.55 The
Supreme Court of California’s decision differentiated between checkpoints established with the purpose
of collecting evidence of a crime and checkpoints established for the primary purpose of promoting
public safety by deterring intoxicated persons from driving on public streets and highways.56 The
Court found that the State’s interest in stopping drunk driving outweighed the private interest against
intrusiveness on individual liberties.57
In order to ensure that sobriety checkpoints are as minimally intrusive as possible, however, the Court
laid out the following guidelines that have come to be known as the Ingersoll Guidelines. They include
the following factors used to determine if a checkpoint is “reasonable:”58
1.	 The decision to establish checkpoints should be made at a managerial level, not by officers
on the field.
2.	 Limits on discretion of officers in the field in order to prevent arbitrary and capricious
3.	 In order to minimize risk of danger to motorists and police, there should be property lighting,
warning signs and clearly identifiable official vehicles and personnel present at checkpoints.
4.	 Reasonable location that adheres to public safety concerns, and where there is likely to be
high incidence of alcohol related accidents.
5.	 Reasonable time and duration which limits the intrusiveness of checkpoints and considers
the effectiveness of deterring DUI.
6.	 Signs of official nature of roadblock to minimize intrusiveness.
7.	 Length and nature of detention should adhere to safety concerns by avoiding traffic tie-ups.
8.	 Advance publicity is important to deterring drunk driving, limiting the intrusion upon
personal dignity and security in that individuals understand what is happening.59
9.	 Though the court does not indicate that this is mandatory, advance publicity is important
to maintain a constitutionally permissible checkpoint. Advance publicity might deter
drunk driving, limit the intrusion upon personal dignity and security because those being
stopped would anticipate and understand what was happening, and serves to establish the
legitimacy of the checkpoints in the minds of motorists.60


Subsequently, California courts have held that not all factors must be met in order to establish that a
sobriety checkpoint was properly conducted.61 Thus, while the Ingersoll Guidelines serve as a tool for
planning and conducting a sobriety checkpoint, the absence of one or a number of factors does not
necessarily render a checkpoint illegal.
Traffic Safety Checkpoints
Under the state vehicle code (CVC 14607.6), an officer cannot stop a driver simply to determine
whether the driver is properly licensed. Thus, although license and registration checkpoints are
generally allowed, the legality of driver’s license-only checkpoints is in question if the sole purpose
of the stop is to determine if an individual is properly licensed. However, checkpoints that check for
a combination of things, of which a valid license is one, do not appear to violate this provision. When
the Office of Transit Safety (OTS) issues DUI Awareness and Enforcement grants, the description of
the grant refers to the checkpoints as DUI/Driver’s License Checkpoints.62 Likewise, EPD changed
its “License-Only Checkpoints” to “Traffic Safety Checkpoints” in order to avoid legal repercussions.63
The Traffic Safety Checkpoints do check for a valid driver’s license.
Car impoundments are permissible under two California
Vehicle Code sections — CVC 14602.6, which allows law
enforcement to impound a car for thirty days and the CVC
22651, which does not include the thirty-day requirement.
Vehicle storage is another form of vehicle seizure but it allows
for the registered owner to retrieve the vehicle from the towing
lot without a release warrant.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that
neither a lone traffic violation
nor the deterrence effect on
unlicensed drivers justifies
impounding a car.

CVC 14602.6 allows law enforcement to impound a car for
thirty days if the vehicle’s driver was never issued a license,
has a suspended or restricted license, or has had his or
her license revoked. If an officer decides to impound a
car under this code, he or she is strictly required to impound the car for thirty days.64 Driving with an
expired license does not constitute grounds for impounding a vehicle under this provision.

CVC 22651 gives officers general authority to impound a vehicle if the officer cites a driver for any
number of violations, including those listed in CVC 14602.6. Ultimately, both sections permit, but do
not require, officers to impound a car.65 But if an officer decides to store the car instead of impound or
release it, there is no required amount of time the car must remain in the impound lot.66
In Miranda v. City of Cornelius, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an officer is only allowed
to impound a car for community care-taking purposes, such as when the car cannot be parked safely
without risk of being stolen or there is no other licensed driver available to drive the vehicle home.67
The Ninth Circuit noted that without a community-care taking purpose,68 a lone traffic violation did not
justify impounding a car. The Court also stated that impounding a car in order to deter an unlicensed
driver from driving in the future was not a valid reason to impound the car.69 Thus, without a
community care-taking purpose, the fact that a driver is unlicensed does not warrant impounding the
car in question. If there is a licensed individual in the car who can safely drive the car home, or if the
car can be safely parked at another location, there is no community care-taking concern and thus no
need to impound the car.


Recent State Legislation
In 2011, two bills were proposed that would affect checkpoints and
impound policies in California.
Assembly Bill 1389 sought to codify the Ingersoll Guidelines and
additional impound-related provisions. It would have eliminated
local politicians’ power to authorize combined vehicle inspection
and sobriety checkpoint programs.70 However, due to lobbying by
law enforcement and other groups, the bill was vetoed by Governor
Jerry Brown.71
Assembly Bill 353, however, was signed into law in 2012. It limits
the authority of law enforcement officers to impound the vehicles
of unlicensed drivers at checkpoints. The law allows unlicensed,
sober drivers who are pulled over at sobriety checkpoints to find a licensed, safe driver to remove the car
to another location before the checkpoint ends if that replacement driver is authorized by the registered
owner of the vehicle. It prohibits law enforcement from seizing vehicles solely on the basis that the
driver lacks a driver’s license. If the authorized owner of the vehicle cannot be contacted during the
duration of the checkpoint, the vehicle will not be released to an unauthorized driver. Additionally, if the
driver is unable to find a licensed driver within the duration of the checkpoint and the car is impounded,
the unlicensed driver has the opportunity to pick up the vehicle during any subsequent business hours as
long as he or she is accompanied by the registered owner or a person authorized by the registered owner
who is a licensed driver.
While AB353 limits the ability of law enforcement to impound vehicles at sobriety checkpoints, it does
not protect individuals stopped in routine traffic incidents against impoundment under the thirty-day
CVC 14602.6. Further, the veto of AB1389 means that Ingersoll Guidelines are not legally enforceable and
individuals cannot hold police departments legally responsible for failing to comply with the guidelines in
establishing and processing checkpoints.72
AB353 has important implications for Escondido. The cumbersome thirty-day impoundment is no longer
allowed in checkpoints. However, officers may impound vehicles at other interactions with unlicensed
motorists; car impoundments are still an expensive ordeal for unlicensed drivers; and checkpoints can
continue to be a dragnet to catch undocumented immigrants.

In Perspective: Comparison with Other States and Cities
Nationally, there are 38 states that allow sobriety checkpoints either by statute or through their
interpretation of the Constitution. Five states prohibit such checkpoints explicitly by statute, while five
other states, including Texas, have declared them illegal under their state’s constitutions.73
The State of California has yet to write clear regulations on many of its procedural and impound
policies. The lack of comprehensive state regulations has left checkpoint and impound protocols under
the discretion of local police departments. As such, cities throughout California have a wide variety of
policies and practices. Escondido’s mandatory thirty-day vehicle impoundment for unlicensed drivers
is significantly harsher than other municipalities in California. Other cities including Long Beach, Los
Angeles, and San Francisco, allow police officers to exercise discretion as to whether the vehicle should
be impounded for thirty days or less. Long Beach policy states that if a licensed driver is present in the
vehicle, he or she is allowed to drive the car away. In Maywood, California, officers are trained not to
impound vehicles that are parked in safe locations. San Francisco’s policies do not allow officers to tow

a vehicle if it is lawfully parked at the driver’s home, if there is a licensed driver at the scene, or if the
unlicensed driver is able to produce a licensed driver to retrieve the vehicle within twenty minutes.
Escondido has one of the most stringent checkpoints and impound policies in the state. Its policies
give officers little discretion, often forcing officers to undertake the task of impounding vehicles when
it makes little sense or creates unnecessary hardship, such as leaving families with young children
stranded on the side of the road.

Checkpoint and impounds raise the difficult question of what ultimately constitutes community safety.
They also beg the much harder question of what will our nation do about its current failed national
immigration policy. In a situation where undocumented
drivers live in our midst, and no public policy solutions
Our inability to address
exist to address them, what should we do? Our inability
to address these urgent issues has led to policies that
national immigration policy
disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members
of our communities. While some cities across California
has led to police policies that
have changed their checkpoint and impound policies in
response to community concerns over the effectiveness
disproportionately affect
and intrusiveness of these policies, cities like Escondido
have been able to use the system to generate funds on the
the most vulnerable.
backs of their most economically vulnerable residents. If
Escondido (and similarly situated cities) choose to continue
checkpoints and impounds, we recommend the following reforms to make the systems both fair and
Best Practices for Checkpoints and Impound Policies
To ensure that cities do not overstep the specific intent of sobriety checkpoints, cities should implement
Ingersoll Guidelines as well as develop comprehensive best practices for their checkpoint and impound
policies. These policies should apply to all interactions with unlicensed drivers.
The following are some general principles that should be implemented:
• An officer cannot initiate a tow unless the vehicle presents a public safety concern due to
flow of traffic. The officer may not initiate a tow where the parked vehicle does not present a
traffic hazard, or if there is a licensed driver at the scene who is able to safely and lawfully
drive the vehicle away. If there is not a licensed driver present at the scene, a qualified
licensed driver should be able to retrieve the vehicle in a reasonable amount of time. The
officer shall inform the driver of his/her right to call an alternative licensed driver.
• An officer may place a hold under CVC 14602.6 only if ALL the following factors are met:
o The driver was driving with a suspended, revoked or restricted license and;
o That suspension, revocation or restriction was imposed due to a conviction for driving
under the influence or a felony traffic offense; and,
o The citing officer in his/her discretion determines to arrest and take into custody the
driver for driving with a suspended, revoked or restricted license.
• If there is not a licensed driver present at the scene, the officer must inform the driver that a
qualified licensed driver may retrieve the car within a reasonable time period and must give
the driver an opportunity to contact a qualified licensed driver.
• Prior to towing a car, the officer should obtain approval from a supervisory officer and
create an incident report to document:


o The circumstance of the tow including the reasons for initial stop and tow citations used
o The location of the stop and physical location of vehicle
o Whether the officer provided the driver the opportunity to direct the car to be towed to
safe location
o The name of the supervisory officer who approved the tow, and the driver’s
demographical information.
• If an officer initiates a tow, the officer shall permit the driver to direct the vehicle to be towed
to driver’s home or other safe location, rather than an impoundment lot, provided the driver
has not previously had his/her license suspended.
• Unless the driver has a previous conviction for driving under the influence or a felony
conviction for driving with a suspended license, an officer should cite under CVC 22651, which
permits the registered owner to retrieve the vehicle from an impound lot during normal
business hours if he or she has a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance.
• Officers should be prohibited from using the fact that a person has a foreign identity document
as evidence of the person’s immigration status.74
Increasing Publicity and Education of Checkpoints and Impound Policies
The purpose of sobriety and license and registration checkpoints is to deter drunk and unlicensed driving.
Escondido Mayor Sam Abed has previously stated in an editorial in the North County Times, “Sobriety
checkpoints are generally considered the best deterrent, especially when their locations are well
publicized. People think twice about drinking and driving if they believe there is a good chance they will
be arrested.”75 Advance publicity is vital for checkpoints to serve their deterrent purpose, yet EPD has
not done enough to publicize checkpoints, particularly in Spanish media. EPD should improve its media
outreach by contacting as many publications and outlets as possible and thereby increase the visibility
and deterrent factor of checkpoints.
In addition, the EPD should make a greater effort to inform
the community about its checkpoint and impound policies.
For example, the community should be educated about what
circumstances would cause their cars to be impounded, and for
how long. It is clear from talking to Escondido residents that
there is general confusion about the EPD’s checkpoints and
impound policies, and even greater confusion when it comes
to the city’s Operation Joint Effort program. If, for example, an
unlicensed driver is taken to the EPD station so that police may
verify his or her identity, is he or she then exposed to questioning
from ICE? Is anyone without a driver’s license subjected to questioning by ICE agents or are assumptions
made about a person’s home or origin based on subjective factors, such as race, ethnicity or even their
dress and footwear?
Demanding More Accountability and Oversight of Checkpoint Grants and Other Forms of Financing
Wrong Turn highlights the problems raised by limited oversight of OTS grants and other federal funding for
sobriety checkpoints and the lack of transparency and accountability in transactions between government
institutions. When these types of law enforcement activities are not being pursued for their intended purpose
and when there is no clear accounting of where taxpayer money is spent, public trust and confidence erodes.
Due to the major concerns in this report about both the financing and immigration-related purposes of
Escondido’s checkpoints and impounds, the City of Escondido should establish new, independent and
unimpeachable mechanisms for overseeing its agencies and investigating abuses and improprieties.

The Police Assessment Resource Center provides a list of all police accountability mechanisms across
the country.76 Sacramento has a department intended to increase community participation in policing
the community as well as being whistleblowers to misconduct by the police.77 The City and County of San
Diego each have independent oversight boards for its police agencies.
Drivers’ Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants
The question of whether undocumented immigrants should be able to obtain a driver’s license has been
a hotly debated issue across the country. Until 1993, undocumented immigrants were eligible for driver
licenses in California. This changed with SB 976, signed by Governor Pete Wilson, requiring residents to
provide social security numbers and proof that their presence
in California was authorized under federal law in order to
New Mexico allows licenses
obtain or renew a valid driver’s license.78

for undocumented drivers
California has an estimated two million undocumented
immigrants. Undocumented immigrants work and live in our
and saw its uninsured rate
communities. They need transportation to fulfill their obligations
and will continue to drive without driver’s licenses. It is difficult to
drop from 33% in 2002 to
assess the public safety concerns that arise with having a large
number of drivers without California licenses since we have very
10% in 2007.
little data about the numbers and make-up of undocumented
immigrants. However, one argument often made is that unlicensed
drivers are unsafe because many are often uninsured. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that
unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than validly licensed drivers.80 More
than 14% of all accidents nationally are caused by uninsured drivers, and, in California, it may be as high as 18%.81
Denying undocumented immigrants licenses does not solve the immigration issue and is bad public policy.
Policy analyses of states that have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses show
dramatic increases in the number of persons who are insured. In Utah, the state’s uninsured rate went
from ten percent to five percent.82 New Mexico implemented policies allowing drivers without legal
status to receive driver’s licenses in 2003 and saw its uninsured rate drop from 33 percent in 2002 to
ten percent in 2007. At the time, Governor Bill Richardson stated, “We’re dealing with a problem, rather
than being ideologically senseless. This is a reality in border states.”
Recently, Charlie Beck, the Chief of Police of the Los Angeles Police Department and Lee Baca, the
Los Angeles County Sheriff, stated publicly that they are in favor of driver’s licenses for immigrants
to improve road safety. Beck asked, “Why wouldn’t you want to put people through a rigorous testing
process? Why wouldn’t you want to better identify people who are going to be here?” The Los Angeles
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich echoed Beck’s remarks by calling it a “matter of public safety.”83
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo has recently announced that he will introduce a bill to provide licenses for
undocumented immigrants in California.84 With support from heavy hitters like Police Chief Charlie
Beck, it is likely that his bill will gain more support. With two million undocumented immigrants in
California, implementing such policies would be expected to make dramatic shifts in the safety and
security of our communities.
The National Immigration Law Center provides model practices that states should implement in order
to make driver’s licenses available to improve public safety while still keeping the integrity of the license
document. These recommendations include states requiring proof of state residency, implementing
internal antifraud mechanisms and security measures that make it more difficult to produce counterfeit
licenses, and creating a taskforce that includes community members to develop procedures and
mechanisms for reforming the state’s driver’s licenses policy.85



The City of Escondido is a place of enormous potential. Since distracting itself with taking on the federal
job of immigration enforcement, however, it has been a city of squandered potential. By adopting the
recommendations in this report, Escondido would make an important step in getting back to focusing
on opportunity and fairness for all of its residents.
If the City of Escondido will not abandon its tainted checkpoint and impound programs, it should:
1.	 Adopt and adhere to the Ingersoll Guidelines established by the California Supreme Court to
weigh public safety concerns with individuals’ right to privacy, and establish best practices
for integrity of checkpoint and impound policies, especially in Escondido;
2.	 In order to achieve the desired effect of preventing drunk driving, increase publicity and
education about checkpoints and impounds;
3.	 Provide more accountable and transparent reporting of OTS and other taxpayer-funded
checkpoint programs and practices.
4.	 Work with state lawmakers and community organizations to advocate for driver’s licenses
for undocumented immigrants, which will lead to safer driving and increased insurance
coverage, as it has in New Mexico, Utah and Washington.



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E.g. Guidi, Ruxandra. “Escondido Residents Use Video to Document Police Efforts.” KPBS. Feb. 1, 2011. Web. http://www.
Escondido Cal. Ordinance No. 2006-38R. Oct. 4, 2006. Web.
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“In-Person Interview with Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher.” Personal Interview. Oct. 11, 2011. Escondido Police
Department Headquarters.
“Interview with Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher and Leticia Garduno.” Personal Interview by John Carlos Frey. Nov. 17, 2011
10:00am. Escondido Police Department Headquarters.
“Interview with Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher and Leticia Garduno.” Personal Interview by John Carlos Frey. Nov. 17, 2011
Escondido Police Department Headquarters.
“Interview with Lilia Sanchez.” Personal Interview by John Carlos Frey. Immigration Lawyer. Feb. 6, 2012.
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Feb. 2010. Web.
Gabrielson, Ryan. “After City Scandals, Lawmakers Crack down on Car Impounds.” California Watch. Sept. 2011. Web. http://
Auction List. Road One. September 23, 2011. Pg 1-3.
California Office of Traffic Safety, supra note 52.
Sifuentes, Edward. “Escondido: New Traffic Safety Checkpoints Begin.” North County Times. July 27, 2010.Web. http://www.
“DUI Enforcement and Awareness Program, Grant Number AL1078.” Office of Traffic Safety Grant Agreement. Sept. 7, 2010.
Safe Transportation and Research Center. Grant Proposals. Sobriety Checkpoint Mini Grant Program for Law enforcement
Resolution 2004-114 Tow Contract Fee Increase/Contract Renewal.” Page 2.
“Total Estimated Program Cost with Overhead.” Tow Coordinator and Contract Administrative Costs. 2007. Page 1.
“Interview with Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher and Leticia Garduno.” Nov. 17, 2011, 10:00am. Escondido Police
Department Headquarters.
Mustion, P. Richardson. “Escondido P.D. Tow Yard Proposal 2007” PowerPoint Presentation by Tow Yard Coordinator.
Escondido. Nov. 27, 2006.
Resolution 2004-114; Tow Coordinator and Contract Administrative Costs (2007); FY 2011-12 Projected Tow Program Fiscal
Summary, Escondido Police Department, (2011). See also:
“John Carlos Frey Interview with Tow Company Contractor.” Personal Interview. Nov. 2011.
Resolution 2004-114; Tow Coordinator and Contract Administrative Costs (2007); FY 2011-12 Projected Tow Program Fiscal
Summary. Escondido Police Department (2011).
John Carlos Frey Interview with Tow Company Contractor. Personal Interview. Nov. 2011.
Woodyard, Chris. “Calif. Bans Car Tow Practice That Hit Illegal Immigrants” USA Today. Dec. 28, 2011. Web. http://content.
John Carlos Frey research on Escondido Checkpoint and Impound Practices.
The 3 minute fees are included in the 33 minute fee. To break it down further the fees in 2004 that were charged were:
mailing: 15 min, Records time: 15 min, Sgt’s time 2 min, and Lt.’s time: 1 min. Then in 2011 this fee is increased to: sergeant
time: 7.5 min, officer:45 min, officer (for arrest only) 95 min, dispatcher 15 min, CSO 15 min, and records tech 15 minutes.
Resolution 2004-114; Tow Coordinator and Contract Administrative Costs. 2007.
FY 2011-12 Projected Tow Program Fiscal Summary. Escondido Police Department. 2011.
FY 2011-12 Projected Tow Program Fiscal Summary. Escondido Police Department. 2011.
“City of Escondido Tow Contract Fee Breakdown” obtained Jan. 26, 2012.
“Interview with Marc Ramirez.” Personal Interview. Feb. 6, 2012. City of Escondido.
Woodyard, Chris. “Calif. Bans Car Tow Practice That Hit Illegal Immigrants.” USA Today. Dec. 28, 2011. Web. http://content.
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Id. at 1339, 1347.
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Ingersoll v. Palmer, 43 Cal.3d 1321 (1987)
See Roelfsema v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 41 Cal.App.4th 871, 877 (1995) (“The eight factors identified in Ingersoll
provide ‘functional guidelines’ to assess the intrusiveness of a checkpoint. However, the absence of one factor, such as the
failure to provide advance publicity, does not necessarily mean the checkpoint is unconstitutional”).
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Web. [hereinafter California Office of Traffic Safety].
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of an officer’s power to impound a car under CAL. VEH. CODE 14602.6).
Id. at 580, 582.
429 F.3d 858 (9th Cir. 2005).
Id. at 864.
Id. at 866.
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