COSTA MESA — The city attorney's office is looking into a disagreement between Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer and police over whether it was a good idea to stage a driving under the influence checkpoint on a busy street during rush hour Thursday, city officials said.
Righeimer passed through the checkpoint while driving southbound on Harbor Boulevard at Gisler Avenue without incident about 6:30 p.m. on his way to the Estancia High School football game. After he drove through it, he parked in the McDonald's parking lot and walked over to police and asked them about the wisdom of slowing down traffic before the game and during the evening rush.
Officers said they felt Righeimer, who is running for City Council, tried to flex political muscle because he was inconvenienced by the traffic the checkpoint created.
"There's an attitude," Righeimer said Friday. "They're not used to being asked questions. I'm just asking questions."
Righeimer, a former Daily Pilot columnist, has been clashing with the police and fire unions in recent weeks over comments he has made about the need to reform expensive pension packages for public safety employees.
The checkpoint was conducted from 6 to 11 p.m. In a news release issued days before the checkpoint, police said the location was selected because of DUI-related crashes and arrests in the area.
Righeimer said he asked to talk to the officer in charge of the checkpoint and demanded to know why they were doing it at such a busy intersection during rush hour. He said it took him nearly half an hour to get from Susan Street, a small street east of Harbor, through the checkpoint.
Four police officers, each of whom asked not to be identified because they're not authorized to speak with the media, claimed Righeimer demanded, as a public official, that officers shut down the checkpoint. They said he threatened to call Police Chief Chris Shawkey.
Righeimer acknowledged that he said he would call the chief, but only for answers. He said he never demanded that they shut down the checkpoint.
"They don't like anyone coming up to them and asking questions," Righeimer said. "I think most of the public expects to see DUI checkpoints later in the evening in areas that have bars and restaurants, not at the exit of freeways. I think they ended up with 3,400 cars and two people arrested. It kind of tells you right there."
Statistics released Friday show 3,214 cars passed through the checkpoint, with officers screening about 500 of them and arresting two on suspicion of driving drunk. Police also cited 17 people and impounded 12 vehicles.
City Manager Allan Roeder explained that planning commissioners report to the City Council and do not have authority over police.
Roeder did not elaborate on the nature of the city attorney's investigation, though he did confirm one is taking palce.
He said he was aware of the incident and the city is gathering all documents, field observations, including audio recordings and any other related information to hand over to the city attorney's office.
The checkpoint was funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety. Officials with OTS said checkpoints are meant as reminders to the public about police presence and the dangers of drinking and driving. Saturation patrols, where more officers are on the streets looking for impaired drivers, are typically used for increased enforcement.