1 hour ago ē By EDWARD SIFUENTES
North County Times

The Escondido Police Department will operate normally and its policies, including the use of checkpoints, will continue while Police Chief Jim Maher is on paid administrative leave, Mayor Sam Abed said.

Abed said in a news release issued Monday afternoon that he had received comments from the public wondering whether Escondido's traffic safety checkpoints would continue.

"Let me assure you that the police department programs and policies, including checkpoints, will not only continue to be maintained, but they will be strengthened," Abed said. "They are the City Council policies that are carried out by our city manager through the police department."

Police officials say the checkpoints have improved road safety in Escondido, including helping to reduce the number of hit-and-run crashes in the city.

Latino and immigrant rights activists have criticized the city for its frequent use of checkpoints, saying the operations disproportionately affect Latino immigrants, many of whom are illegal immigrants who are not eligible for driver's licenses.

City spokeswoman Joyce Masterson said the city had received numerous emails, including some sent to the mayor, and comments posted on newspaper websites raising questions about the checkpoints, which prompted Abed's news release.

Maher was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday after a meeting with city officials. Maher told the North County Times Friday that the action took him by surprise.

The leave was because of an investigation into "improper conduct" by two-high level department employees that did not involve him, the chief said. City officials placed Maher on leave to protect him, the chief said.

Maher supporters say they plan to hold a rally outside City Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Tisha Bennett, president of Citizens of Escondido for Road Safety, a group of residents who support the checkpoints, said she and her group have several questions about the chief's leave, including whether daytime traffic safety checkpoints have been stopped.

Bennett noted that there have been no daytime traffic safety checkpoints since June 19. Traffic safety checkpoints are different from sobriety and driver's license checkpoints, because the DUI operations are paid for through state grants and conducted at night.

Traffic safety checkpoints are funded by the city and are typically conducted during the day.

Sobriety checkpoints are held about twice a month, but traffic safety checkpoints are much less frequent, with one typically held every several months.

Bennett said she sent out an email to members of her group listing five questions regarding the chief's leave of absence, saying he apparently has done nothing wrong.

The two police officials were being investigated for "a racial slur," Bennett said, but she declined to elaborate or identify the source of her information. In the email, Bennett also asked why the staff members being investigated had not been put on leave and whether the matter was a "ruse to fire the chief."

"Our big concern is that the police chief is not being treated fairly," Bennett said. "People are asking me what's going on with the chief? Why was the chief put on leave if he has done nothing wrong?"

City officials have declined to reveal details about the investigation.

In his news release, Abed said the police chief was placed on paid administrative leave "to protect the integrity of a personnel review and is unrelated to the department's established policies."

Abed could not be reached for further comment Tuesday.

ESCONDIDO: Checkpoints will continue, mayor says : Escondido