Document 113632

What some Detroit towing
cotIlpanies don't want us to know , ~
By Sam Logan
As the City of Detroit under
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing creates a transparent process. for
the way it awards its contracts,
there is at least one other city
contracted service that should
now get new attention: municipal towing.
Thanks to a 2005 Auditor
General's report, the city already
has a blueprint for reforming its
approach to hauling vehicles. ,.
Problems cited then - which
still exist to this day - range
fro . d
te sec rity and
. m lOa equa.
lmproper handbng of vehicles
. to
outright fraud and corruption.
F or decades, Detroit has been
contractingto with
t~w Sam Logan
the towmg
and impound services for the city. Although
the Detroit Police Department has been trying
to clean up this mess since 2002, no real progh .be
ress as en ma e..
As detailed in the AG's report, the DPD con
tracts out for the city's towing operations to 30
different police-authorized towing businesses.
These privately owned businesses are supposed to be in compliance with the city's Po~ce
Authorized Towing Ordinance and the towmg
contracts that they entered into with the Detro't P li De artment.
1 0 ce P.,
In order to be eligible to receive these contracts,'the tow companies are not permitted to
have any interests that conflict with the performance of the contract. Of the 30 contracted ~
towers, it was found that 22 of them own or are
associated with businesses,. such as used car
dealerships or parts dealers, that pose a clear
conflict of interest. And that is just the tip of
the iceberg;
These conflicts of interest might help to explain some of the other findings. Vehicles that
have been abandoned are supposed to be auctloned in a tiuiely manner. It has been found
that these abandoned vehicles are not b~g
auctioned promptly, which causes the starting
bid prices for these cars to increase and reduces the number of sales. This allows the towing
companies to take ownership of the vehicles.
Also, when there are claims made against the'
tow companies for missing parts, they are often
settled "on the side." If these tow operators
are in the business of selling used cars or car
parts, i,t comes a.s,no surpri~e;
that ~lS sort of impropriety is;
Tow operators were also found'
to be in violation Of numerous'
city regulations. Thereportsi
revealed that towing companies
routinely overcharge vehicle,
owners, tow in precincts they,
are not authorized to tow in"
move vc:hicles prior to obtain:
ing pobce authorization, and;
improperly confiscate prop~rty.~
Many of the lots where vehicl~,
are held are not secure and vehi"!
cles are sometimes even sto~
on the streets. Tow companlesl
do not maintain the required
b'USlness h ours, and the owners
of the vehicles are often not pr<?vided with access to their cars. ~
The Detroit
.. Police Department \ ~
also ~bes on th~se I?nvate tow:
companies to proVlde them Wlth lists o! im~
pounded, abandoned and rede~med vehicles,;
.but since many of these companies do not have
adequately maintained records, th ere is no ~-r
surance that the police department has como.
plete, up-to-date information. There is also n~
assurance that all abandoned vehicle owner~
are properly notified, because DPD relies on'
the tow companies to identify these vehicle~
and complete the notification forms ...
Unfortunately, the pobce department doe,&
not have the resources to make sure that these
tow companies are in compliance with their
contracts and other city and state regulation~,=
an~ ~y uI}iformedp()lice personn,e! pIe doing
'tl1e'work that could'be done by'oUier Cityworkers or contractors. DPD simply does not have
the capacity to monitor and evaluate the performance of all of the individual tow operations in
order to effectively manage the process. This
makes it nearly impossible to hold these tow
companies accountable.
' .:
That is why the City of Detroit, which h~
twice issued and rescinded - in 2008 and in:
2010 - Request for Proposals designed t9reform the process, should go ahead and PI;O-,
vide for, an open bid. The RFP should be am~
bitious enough that it reengineers the whole.
process, in order to fairly and efficiently return:
towed vehicles to oWners and insurance com,.,
panies. That is a level of clarity that should be
in line with Mayor Bing's commitment to an
open and fair process - one that does not J'C?-'
volve around inefficiency and favoritism ..