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Back to Archives | Back to October 2008 Contents 

Multijurisdictional Repositories: A Possible Solution for Nonconsent Towing Problems

Ron Smith, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Compiled Logic, Houston, Texas

cross the United States, more than 30,000 cars are relocated each day without the owner’s consent, in such situations as law enforcement or private-property tows, and are ultimately stored in public and private impound lots. Coupled with the reality that most metropolitan areas have multiple enforcement agencies residing in overlapping and adjacent jurisdictions, hundreds of towing companies, and thousands of property owners, locating a towed car can be a daunting, costly, and time-consuming task.

With the national average for recovering a towed car estimated at five to seven days and with vehicle abandonment rates greater than 25 percent, many vehicles are never recovered because they cannot be found or the storage bill outweighs the value of the car. The result is that the vehicle owner often walks.

Why is this allowed to happen? Stakeholders in the towing life cycle do not or cannot share data about towed cars.

Towing Life Cycle Challenges

Although the process of vehicle towing, storage, and recovery seems straightforward, it is fraught with complications. Many of these challenges come from the antiquated manner in which data are collected, processed, and disseminated. Following are just a few examples.

Inadequate Ordinances: Nonconsent towing ordinances cover only police-initiated towing and do not require the reporting or oversight of private-property impounds and lienholder repossession towing. As a result, the majority of negative media headlines and citizen complaints involving predatory towing or billing abuses are focused in these two areas.

Paper-Based Reporting: Most aspects of the process, from the initial tow slip to the reporting of inventories by storage lots, are recorded on paper and subsequently transcribed into record management systems at a later date. These manual processes are inefficient, prone to error, and inaccessible.

Different Motivations: The parties involved in the towing life cycle are not necessarily motivated for the same reasons or interested in achieving the same results. Law enforcement agencies are interested in improving operations and reducing resource and manpower constraints. Storage lots must balance profitability with the cost of meeting regulatory mandates. Politicians are focused on improving services delivered without levying additional taxes on voters. Vehicle owners just want to locate their vehicles in a timely, cost-effective manner.

Jurisdiction View: For a given locale, multiple governmental agencies may possess the authority to authorize nonconsent tows. For metropolitan areas, information is generally not shared among jurisdictions, and there are few coordinated efforts when it comes to vehicle recovery.

Multiagency Approach

A single, electronic source of nonconsent towing information for all stakeholders across the towing life cycle is the key to improving management and oversight. Creation of an authoritative repository would enable effective communication and tracking by a “connect-the-dots” approach that enables the sharing of information within a discrete towing operation as well as among surrounding cities and counties.

The collaborative benefits that can be achieved through intra- or multijurisdictional data sharing are many. Some of them include a welcome relief to overburdened law enforcement officials; cost-effective and compliant operations for the towing and storage industry; a positive image for state and local governments; and, most important,a single source to which vehicle owners can turn to find their towed cars.

C. O. Bradford, former chief of police in Houston, Texas, agrees. “A multijurisdictional towing repository can enable law enforcement agencies to more efficiently, effectively manage towed vehicles. Today, law enforcement agencies that are utilizing sworn personnel who could be and should be in the field responding to crime issues are stuck inside offices handling administrative tasks.”

All stakeholders can benefit from this arrangement in the following ways.

Law Enforcement Agencies: A single, authoritative repository removes the barriers in today’s information technology (IT) systems and/or manual processes so that officers can manage the entire nonconsent towing situation and gain the necessary visibility to ensure proper, cost-effective industry oversight; ensure public safety; and answer vehicle owners’ towing inquiries. Such a repository can mitigate erroneous stolen vehicle reports, thus enabling highly skilled law enforcement personnel to focus their efforts on police work—not paperwork.

Storage and Towing Industry: A single, authoritative repository can lower operational costs, increase inventory turnover, and improve customer service. It can eliminate the need for arbitrary compliance reports and provide a simple method for reporting private-property impounds.

Cities/Municipalities: Cities and counties can benefit by providing better services to their constituents by reducing the financial burden and emotional stress related to towing and storage fees. An authoritative, multijurisdictional repository improves collaboration and promotes cooperation among local, regional, and state law enforcement agencies and governmental bodies.

Vehicle Owners: Vehicle owners would spend less time and money recovering their towed vehicles by accessing information about the repository from a single Web site and a phone number, regardless of where or by whom the vehicle was towed.

Change in the Air

The collaborative benefits achieved through intra- or multijurisdictional data sharing are clear. Cities and counties across the country are rewriting ordinances that cover nonconsent towing rules, towing fees, and private-property reporting.

“It’s something I think all governments should do, because it’s a basic service that can be provided to people and at the same time really cut down on the resources that are used by city government to deal with towed vehicles,” said Lee P. Brown, former Houston mayor and chief of police.

In just the last several months, Houston; San Diego, California; Baltimore County, Maryland; and Detroit, Michigan, have announced publicly that they are looking either to create new towing management systems or to outsource all nonconsent towing operations completely.

These changes, coupled with the implementation of more robust municipal IT infrastructures, set the stage for much-needed improvements to the management and oversight of the entire nonconsent towing process.

For more information on towing management solutions, the author can be reached at or 281-451-0766. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 10, October 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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