Escondido’s Self-Audit Raises More Serious Concerns of Transparency and Accountability

The following can be attributed to Kevin Keenan, Executive Director, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

A day late, and hundreds of thousands of dollars short.

In our initial analysis of the internal report issued by the City of Escondido late yesterday, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties finds a number of troubling omissions and misstatements. We think it is important for the media and the public to consider the following problems with the City Manager’s report:

  1. The State of California’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) funds the DUI checkpoints in Escondido. They issue grants to pay for equipment and officer salaries. In 2010, OTS awarded the Escondido Police Department $268,564.  Since 2004, Escondido has received $2,723,167 in these taxpayer-funded grants. Despite the fact that 30% of impounds in Escondido occur at checkpoints, these revenue sources are not calculated into the figures released in yesterday’s report.
  2. The City reports that they have charged a $100 tow fee for impounds at OTS-funded checkpoints since 2008/9. Our records show this is inaccurate, that the $100 fee was adopted only in the last year.
  3. The report also omits the non-refundable $2,500 application fees each tow company was required to submit to apply for a tow contract with the City.
  4. The report fails to address that the number of tows has decreased by about 40% since 2007, but the City’s fees to tow companies have at least doubled. The City does not account for why fees have increased so dramatically to handle so many fewer tows.
    a.       Even by the City’s own figures in its report, which do not go back to 2007, tows have decreased by approximately 30%, but their fees and costs do not reflect a similar reduction.
  5. Impound fees by other cities in the region vary significantly from Escondido’s:
    a.       Escondido charges $100 or $180 per tow
    b.      The City of San Diego charges $54
    c.       San Marcos charges $58
    d.      Poway charges $70
    e.       Vista charges $120
    None of these other cities also charges contract fees to tow companies like Escondido does.
  6. The amount of time each officer spends on processing each tow appears exaggerated and deserves independent analysis. The City offered a much different estimate in 2007. Why did the personnel time and tasks associated with managing the same towing operation increase so dramatically? The tasks assigned to Officer #1 and Officer #2 did not exist in 2007. From 2004 to 2007, the Escondido Police Department invoiced for 33 minutes billing time per tow. In 2011, the department said it now devotes a credibility-straining total of 187.5 minutes processing each tow.
    a. To quote a retired sergeant from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, “Either Escondido is looking to pad their books or they don’t know how to tow a car. If my
    officers took that long, we’d have no officers on patrol.”

In our report Wrong Turn, we left open the possibility that Escondido could explain the dubious accounting of its checkpoints and impound program.  Given this poor self-audit and the documents generated in response to our public records act request, we are now even more concerned that there are financial shenanigans involved.  This week, it looks more likely that Escondido has violated important state laws guaranteeing transparency and accountability to tax payers. Our call for a meaningfully-independent audit stands.