Attorney: Township’s car towing practices illegal

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Sunday, January 6, 2008
— An attorney believes town of Beloit police have been illegally towing cars after traffic stops and criminal arrests.

“If it’s legally parked, and if it’s not obstructing traffic and not being kept for evidence, there’d be no reason to have it towed,” Evansville attorney Tom Alisankus said. “One of the requirements is, in order for an officer to tow the car, there has to be a legal reason to do so.”

Town of Beloit police Chief John Wilson said the policy was researched by former town attorney Ken Forbeck and was found to be legal.

“He’s wrong,” Wilson said of Alisankus’ opinion.

The town is liable for vehicles on the street, Wilson said.

Town of Beloit Administrator Bob Museus agrees. Museus said he wouldn’t argue law with an attorney, but he said the town is liable for vehicles left parked after an arrest.

“We just can’t leave vehicles lying around,” Museus said. “We want to operate within the law, but we don’t want to be liable for a car getting broken in to or damaged.”

The town of Beloit took in $39,950 in 2007 after charging administrative fees for 505 tows.

The town is the only Rock County municipality that takes in money when it orders cars to be towed after an arrest.

Wilson said the town does not allow a car to stay on the street if the driver is arrested for drunken driving, driving without a license or other offenses.

If a sober, legal passenger is available to move the car immediately, that’s fine, Wilson said, but a town of Beloit officer will not move the car.

The driver has to pay the towing company to move the car to a secure lot. A police tow starts at $75 and gets more expensive depending on the time of day, length of storage, the type of vehicle and the distance of the tow, said Steve Davis, owner of Davis Citgo, 45 E. Racine St., Janesville.

A town of Beloit officer will call any towing company a driver requests. If the driver doesn’t have a preference, the town usually works with Dewey’s Towing and Recovery, 2212 Prairie Ave., Beloit.

The driver also must pay the town a $75 administrative fee for each offense.

If a town of Beloit officer cites a person for driving without a license and then finds a marijuana pipe in the car, the driver is looking at an instant payment of $225—$75 for the tow and a $75 administrative fee for each violation.

That doesn’t include the ticket or court costs.

The administrative fee pays for the officer to wait for the tow truck, Museus said.

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the offending driver, Wilson said.

“We take a strong stance against drivers that have had licenses revoked or suspended,” Wilson said. “They know they’re violating the law. If an officer stops them, (their car) will be impounded until that night.”

The department’s policy is modeled after one in Bollingbrook, Ill., where Wilson used to be police chief. He credits the town’s tough stance on aggravated traffic offenses for reducing the number of accidents in the township by 40 percent between 2003 and 2006.

“We’re known to be tough on traffic as well as OWI’s,” Wilson said. “It has shown by the way people drive through our town.”

Milton police Chief Tom Gilland said his department is “user friendly” when it comes to towing after traffic offenses. Milton police officers will move a car to a legal parking spot—unless the driver doesn’t want an officer in his or her car.

The towing company bills the driver, and there are no administrative fees for the department.

“That would be a novel idea,” Gilland said.

In Janesville, an officer will help an arrested driver make arrangements for the car. The officer can move it or arrange for a friend to pick it up.

If the officer makes a courtesy call for a tow, the city eats the cost, said Deputy Chief Steve Kopp.

“But the vast majority of the time we do not tow,” Kopp said.

If the car is kept as evidence, the driver would be billed, Kopp said.

Evansville police Chief Scott McElroy said charging an administrative fee for towing would be “unreasonable.”

“We have no administrative fee, no middle man fee,” McElroy said.

In the case the department has a car towed, it attempts to get restitution when the driver’s case goes to court, McElroy said.

But he likes the idea of getting every car off the road.

“I don’t like leaving them on the road,” McElroy said. “When I used to work third shift, I used to recommend to drivers their car should be towed, just to minimize the chance of having it broken into.”

Last updated: 2:57 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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