Redwood City police chief: No council pressure to end DUI operation
By Shaun Bishop

Posted: 09/24/2009 03:05:13 PM PDT
Updated: 09/24/2009 08:16:34 PM PDT

REDWOOD CITY — The city's police chief said he did not feel pressured to shut down a DUI checkpoint in front of the Fair Oaks Community Center when City Councilwoman Barbara Pierce called him to relay concerns that some visitors to the center might feel uncomfortable.

"I see people blaming the council person" for the cancellation of the July 2 operation, Chief Lou Cobarruviaz said. "I say no, blame me, because I'm responsible."

The chief acknowledged he ordered the checkpoint to be moved or shut down after hearing that a large police presence might make illegal immigrants afraid to come to the community center at 2600 Middlefield Road for services.

The checkpoint cancellation has prompted criticism from some residents in recent weeks who contend it was triggered for politically correct reasons.

"I just feel the police department should have the option to give us the best safety measures that they can, and we need to support them and we need to leave the politics out of it," resident Phil Palms told the City Council on Monday.

The cancellation also raised questions about how council members interact with department heads, though Pierce insists she did nothing wrong in contacting the chief. City Manager Peter Ingram is gathering information about the incident at the request of Mayor Rosanne Foust, but it's not clear when his review will be finished or whether the council will take any action.

Pierce called Cobarruviaz on July 2 after she was contacted by Sheryl Munoz-Bergman, the director of San Mateo County immigration programs for the International Institute of the Bay Area, which provides legal advice and other services for immigrants — including those here illegally — at the city-owned community center.

Munoz-Bergman told Pierce in an e-mail she was concerned that having a DUI checkpoint in the center's parking lot would jeopardize "our relationship with the community," because the center is considered "a safe place for all Redwood City residents to get help and answer questions." Pierce then e-mailed and called the chief to pass on Munoz-Bergman's comments.

"If they had been putting a DUI checkpoint at the senior center and an irate senior had called me for whatever reason, I would have passed on the information," Pierce said Wednesday. "It really is that simple for me."

The chief said he told patrol Capt. Chris Cesena about Munoz-Bergman's concern that the checkpoint is "impacting their relationship with (the community) because some of them that are undocumented are going to be fearful" of the police presence.

"We discussed that, and I said, 'I hate to hurt this other city department and the city services they're providing,'" Cobarruviaz recalled.

The chief gave Cesena a choice: Move the operation or end it. Cesena decided to reschedule it, a decision Cobarruviaz said he agreed with.

The checkpoint was set up around 5:45 p.m. and canceled by 8 p.m., about four hours earlier than it was scheduled to end, Sgt. Eric Stasiak said. Police cited 19 people for driving without licenses and two for driving on suspended licenses.

Cobarruviaz insists the department was not catering to undocumented immigrants in canceling the checkpoint, which originally was supposed to be a couple blocks up Middlefield near Costco but was relocated because of construction.

"I didn't do this for undocumented immigrants," Cobarruviaz said. "I did it because concerns were expressed by someone operating out of a city facility that was providing services and because I felt that it might impact the service." ... i_13412766