Portland, Oregon--Maxine Bernstein’s story describes how a patrol towing incident escalated rapidly to include an angry crowd, an attempt to set fire to the tow truck, and the vehicle owner under arrest.
This incident underscores the point that patrol towing is hazardous to the health of the general public, the legal foundation for California’s ban on the practice.
Oregon is the only state on the west coast that allows patrol towing.
The 2007 Oregon Legislature, under the leadership of Senator Avel Gordly, imposed regulations on patrol towing that have yet to be fully implemented, particularly by local governments.
The towing bills passed that year were Senate Bill 116 and Senate Bill 431.
I led the SB 431 workgroup, which focused on private property impounds, to deal with situations such as these, and participated in the SB 116 workgroup, which addressed the broad scope of towing in the state of Oregon.
Prior to the passage of these bills, towing practices in Oregon were largely unregulated, with state and local jurisdictions having little explicit authority to put a dent in abusive and predatory towing.
SB 116 laid out the public policy goal: “(a) Statutes that assist members of the public in avoiding involuntary loss of use of motor vehicles and in expediting recovery of motor vehicles and the personal property in the motor vehicles promote the safety and welfare of members of the public.”
SB 116 establishes the authority of the Oregon Attorney General to receive complaints and to adopt and implement rules to promote the safety and welfare of members of the public.
SB 116 also establishes the authority of local governments to regulate patrol towing within their respective jurisdictions, but none seem to have taken any action since the laws were enacted.
SB 431 addresses private property impounds or patrol towing, the cause of the vast majority of towing complaints.
The legislation also gave state and local governments the authority to regulate the prices towers may charge for heisting your vehicle, but there has been little, if any, action taken.
This is where a conflict of interest exists within municipal governments: as much as they may dislike the practice personally, they need the revenue generated by patrol towing operations to fund city and county services.
Placing a cap on the amount of ransom a tower can charge the victim for release of the victim’s vehicle is an obvious next step, but no elected official has stepped up to take that one on: the pushback will come not only from the towing companies; the heaviest political pressure will come from the commercial interests that authorize the patrol towing practices on their properties.
The property owners pay nothing for the patrol towing “services”, and they want to keep it that way.
The tow company owners pay their drivers on bonus or commission schedules, which explains the drivers’ motivation for aggressive behavior and need for speed.
Some of these drivers carry weapons.
As the patrol towers’ costs increase, they will increase their ransom demands at points of contact with the public.
In yesterday’s incident, the driver demanded $150 in cash for release of the vehicle.
How likely is the average apartment dweller to have that much cash on hand without prior notice?
Some are more likely to have a handgun, a rifle or a shotgun at home than a wallet full of cash.
Other states and the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals have recognized the broad range of hazards to the general public and to the drivers themselves that patrol towing creates. Oregon has yet to step up and resolve the main issues.
The towers’ fee demands are often confiscatory in effect. Loss of vehicle is a penalty far beyond what is just for the “offense” that may or may not have been committed by the vehicle owner.
The patrol towers are hired to do one thing: remove a vehicle from the property.
If you are present at the scene, then you can remove the vehicle yourself. No need for a tow truck.
But that leaves the driver with an investment of time and emotion, and no money forthcoming from his employer, so he must get what he can from you, the vehicle owner.
California’s ban on predatory patrol towing is simple and straightforward, requiring the property owner to be present at the time of the tow and to sign the authorization form.
Commercial property interests and the patrol towers, led by the owners of Retreiver and Sergeant’s Towing, were able to prevent the inclusion of this language in the 2007 legislation, over Senator Gordly’s objections.
This is the most important towing reform legislative work yet to be completed, but I am unaware of any legislative office that is working on the issue (Senator Gordly is retiring prior to the 2009 session).
Here are some important links regarding patrol towing:
Link to description of key towing bills (“Towing reform bills moving”):
Link to Senate Bill 116 (2007):
Link to Senate Bill 431 (2007):
Link to Blogolitical Sean: