The embattled Twin Rivers Unified School District police force is facing new scrutiny: this time for its practice of towing vehicles with expired tags or other violations and using the penalty fees to supplement its budget.
Twin Rivers police generated $45,000 by towing vehicles last year, a 55 percent increase in revenues compared with 2008.
In internal department emails earlier this year, officers were given targets for making vehicle and pedestrian stops, and initially for vehicle tows as well.
Twin Rivers officials confirmed that a district sergeant sent an internal email to officers in March telling them the department needed to tow four vehicles each day. Twin Rivers police spokesman William Cho said the email was recalled soon after it was sent.
"It shouldn't have been written," Cho said. "It was a misunderstanding."
After the email was recalled, another was sent in its place by the same sergeant directing the department to make four vehicle stops and four pedestrian stops daily around district schools.
"That was a mistake as well," Cho said.
Fox 40 first reported the internal emails on its website Thursday morning.
Twin Rivers Unified Superintendent Frank Porter, who oversees the school police force, said Thursday he has "launched an operational review" to address recent media reports and concerns raised by community members.
"There is a clear concern that people have about the issuing of traffic citations and towing of vehicles," Porter said.
Those concerns are compounded by community backlash over a controversial T-shirt printed in 2009 for the Twin Rivers Police Officers Association that only recently came to light.
On Monday, The Bee obtained one of the shirts, which has a picture of a young child behind bars with the slogan, "U raise 'em, we cage 'em."
The Twin Rivers police union which said it sold the shirts as a fundraiser for the families of fallen officers apologized for making them following The Bee's inquiries.
Some community leaders said the shirts validated feelings of mistrust, particularly among Del Paso Heights residents. Others attended the Twin Rivers Unified school board meeting Tuesday night to offer support for the department's commitment to community policing.
With an annual operating budget of $3.7 million, the Twin Rivers Police Department has 20 sworn officers. Porter and district trustees said they remain committed to the department, one of 22 school police forces in the state.
Porter was scheduled to meet with police chiefs from local law enforcement agencies Thursday to discuss, among other things, recent accusations that Twin Rivers officers are "call jumping," or responding to calls they were not dispatched to.
Porter said the meeting was postponed until next week to give him and his staff more time to gather data from the police force. As part of that, Porter said, he is reviewing data related to traffic citations and towing.
"There are incidences where it is very appropriate," Porter said. "If we have a car speeding down a school street, as superintendent I would want them to intervene to reduce risks. Or, an abandoned car near a bus stop or in front of a school. The question is whether there are stops that are not appropriate."
The memorandum of understanding that the Twin Rivers police force has with the Sacramento County Sheriff's and Sacramento Police departments calls for the school officers to have "primary responsibility for traffic enforcement and control for all campus-related events and incidents."
Towing is not specifically mentioned in the agreement.
Vince Matranga, retired chief of security for the Sacramento City Unified School District, said Thursday that there are cases where school police need to have vehicles towed. Matranga said that when Sacramento City Unified had a police force more than a decade ago, it averaged two tows a week.
"We didn't generate any income from it, though," he said.
Twin Rivers charges $200 to release a vehicle once it is towed. That is more than the Sacramento Police Department, which charges $130, and the Sheriff's Department, which charges $164. Those fees do not include the fees residents pay to the towing company or for daily storage of their vehicles.
"I'm very concerned. I'd sure like to know where $200 for recovering a car comes from," said Elverta resident Daniel Miranda, whose children attend school in the Center Joint Unified district, which contracts for Twin Rivers police services.
The Twin Rivers force also patrols the Elverta school district and three park districts.
Twin Rivers police came into the spotlight after one of its officers was shot four times following a traffic stop Oct. 22. Hours later, the suspected shooter died while in Sacramento police custody. The Twin Rivers officer is recovering from his injuries.
Since then, the school district force has been under an "extraordinary amount of scrutiny," Porter said.
By early next week, the superintendent said, he expects to have initial findings and corrective steps in place so the district can move forward with outreach efforts.
"Our parents we serve, they value and rely on our police," Porter said. "Obviously and clearly, we have some segments we need to reach out to and build relationships with. Relationships have been strained, and we need to take deliberate steps to heal them."