Forum with Escondido police chief does not go well
– Amid criticism and bitter comments, Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher tried to explain his policy surrounding the controversial check points, to a skeptical crowd and where activists described his policies as anti-immigrant.
Latino American Democratic Club members (LADC) held a debate where they asked the police chief for explanations as to why the check points that have a profound effect on the Latino population in Escondido happen so frequently in their communities.
The meeting was held at a restaurant in Oceanside, in which at least 50 to 60 people gathered. All of them came to question the chief of police about the transit checkpoints.
Maher tried to explain in 10 minutes why his department, since 2006, is conducting these check points in the most congested and troubled streets and areas of Escondido.
“Our goal is to keep our streets safe, we want to identify the people that provoke accidents, we want to remove those who violate traffic laws, and we have research showing that Escondido has unsafe streets, is one of the worst cities with a large number of accidents and we want to clean up this image,” Maher said in his speech.
Despite his efforts and explanations, Maher’s speech did not convince the audience that the check points are about stopping criminals and more about undocumented people.
Maher defended his statements saying that this was not correct information of those who were questioning him. “I came here to report the reality of how things are happening and what we are doing to combat crime in our streets and provide security for the residents,” Maher said.
Maher explained that the traffic check points are implemented to reduce the number of hit and run accidents, drunk drivers, and someone driving with suspended licenses.
In his remarks, Maher replied that the work of the immigration officer is to arrest aliens who have committed crimes and not to arrest people who do not have documents and reach the traffic checkpoints.
Afterwards, Maher’s speech was revoked by the Hispanic activist Bill Flores, retired Assistant Sheriff in San Diego and a member of the Group, the leading opponent of the police chief’s policies.
Flores released classified data showing roadblocks targeting the Hispanic population, the traffic stops are often setup in places where Hispanics live and frequent.
“Many people have been affected by not having a driver’s license, their cars are impounded for 30 days, they have to pay expensive fines, the city has paid nearly eight million dollars in towing services and officers salaries in order to do the check points, and the worst part is that the Escondido police work with immigration agents”, Flores stated.
Besides, Flores said, the police chief’s information is not correct and he never releases important data that can support his policies. He only reiterates that his policies are supported by migrant opposition groups, and by Escondido City Council members Mary Waldon and Sam Abbed, who want the Hispanic community driven out of the city.
“The only thing that these check points have done is to scare Hispanic people, they are leaving Escondido, the police chief never wants to give conclusive figures showing that his traffic policies are effective,” Flores added.
After audience applauded Flores’s speech, the chief of police tried to clarify the statements against him.
Some of the corrections he wanted to point out were, that only 17 checkpoints were held last year, not 40 as Flores said. Also, he noted that the only time where an unfortunate person was deported was in 2008, when a lady did not have a driver’s license, and after the officer identified her, discovered she was an immigration fugitive. Following federal law they called immigration agents, and she was arrested by these authorities.
Yet, despite all his words, Maher did not convince the LADC members, who questioned the policies adopted by the officer.
“I knew they would like to destroy me,” he said jokingly. “They were going to attack me, but still I came to inform them. Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to correct what they said, they did not give me enough time to rebut what they said. I am very disappointed by this meeting,” Maher noted.
Although the police chief’s face was filled with disappointment, he added that if he was re-invited to this kind of forum again, he would be happy to attend to publicize his achievements and progress against crime in the streets of Escondido.
Among the audience was the Escondido city council person, Olga Diaz, who pointed out her opposition toward Maher’s policies.
“I do not agree with the checkpoints, these are excessive and are damaging our city. Instead of uniting they are dividing our communities. Although the chief refuses to mention this, there are anti-immigrant groups that support these tactics. These check points are targeting Hispanics because they are vulnerable. Maher never gives specific data and he doesn’t help me to do my job, this is a big problem”, the councilwoman said.
Diaz said that city authorities do not want to talk about this problem. This makes it difficult to ban these checkpoints. In the City Hall there are two council members that support these policies and she does not have enough support to stop them.
“I hope that this will change with the next election. There will be more Hispanics that are planning to run for the council and this will help us to have more of a voice and votes to fight everything that is affecting our community,” Diaz said.
Despite the severe criticism, the police chief was simply stating that these allegations were not true, and he insisted that his immigration policy does not allow his officers to act as immigration agents, or collaborate with federal agents as other agencies do.
Finally, the president of LADC stated that they will seek to help the needy people in the community, and they will support new democratic candidates, who reject the abusive policies of powerful people such as the police chief of Escondido.