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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Portland Tow Truck Set on Fire!

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.

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/09/woman_accused_of_torching_a_to.html

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”):

http://www.leg.state.or.us/gordly/newsletter_042007.htm

Link to Senate Bill 116 (2007):

http://www.leg.state.or.us/07reg/measpdf/sb0100.dir/sb0116.en.pdf

Link to Senate Bill 431 (2007):

http://www.leg.state.or.us/07reg/measpdf/sb0400.dir/sb0431.en.pdf

Link to Blogolitical Sean:

http://www.blogoliticalsean.blogspot.com/

5 comments:

Johnny T. Utopia said...

We are kindred spirits, Sean! Have we exchange emails before? Check out my blog, www.towingutopia.com. I'll be writing about your blog and linking to it soon enough!

aj said...

Thanks for posting and sharing this information! I was a recent victim of predatory towing and have been working to get some answers or get some local laws passed. You can read about my ordeal and what I've 'tried' to do about it in my blog.

http://trash2treasure.wordpress.com/category/just-life-stuff/

Our blog is 'usually' about our gift shop and business of truning 'trash into treasure'; but we have a readership of about 700 a day, so I've used it as a venue to help get the message about predatory towing out.

aj @ Sophie's Cottage

Tim Barrett said...

Tsk tsk... Mighty interesting is the arrogance and hostility of those attempting to rush in the defense of tow companies. (I refer to comments posted following the Meier and the Allen stories in the Oregonian)

I find it amazing how some tow companies seem to in violation of felonies, misdemeanors, statutory regulations, city ordinances, and on occasion even civil rights violations... but yet they are more than eager to enforce parking regulations upon the mistakes of others. Those who boldly assert [allegedly lawful delegated] authority to enforce rules are well advised not to break any.


And no... Property Managers rarely call the shots once the "Private Property Authorization Agreement" [translation: vehicle harvesting agreement] form is signed... and in worst cases the property manager becomes no-longer-in-the-loop of participating in the tow decision.

I must say, that I do have a tremendous respect for tow operators who are out there day and night in the worst conditions and trying to hook a dirty wet chain under a vehicle in sub-zero temps to pull it out of a snow-filled median. But wait! ...That’s the OTHER kind of tow operator, who actually responds to a tow call in less than 2-1/2 hours because his guys aren't lurking and patrolling for splitting-hairs minor parking infractions not wanting to risk a missed opportunity for an 'immediate tow'. That's the kind of tow operator who doesn't involve himself in PPI tows, trespass tows, surveillance tows... That's the OTHER kind of tow operator who doesn't run over and kill a man with his tow truck and run over him again with his own Chevrolet Suburban in tow behind it, when the man was trying to catch the driver get his Suburban released - but the driver was too focused on avoiding a less profitable 'on-lot-drop' (as documented in a California case).

Frankly, it's time to put the authority of the property owner to request or order a tow... BACK in the hands of the property owner... and if he doesn't like getting a phone call from an angry tenant at 2:30am - too bad! Granting full autonomy to tow drivers [in a patrol towing agreement] to freely make tow decisions is a moral hazard and quite possibly a perverse incentive.

Tim Barrett said...

(Repost from Oregonian story comments)


Tsk tsk... Mighty interesting is the arrogance and hostility of those attempting to rush in the defense of tow companies. I find it amazing how some tow companies seem to be in violation of felonies, misdemeanors, statutory regulations, city ordinances, and on occasion even civil rights violations... but yet they are more than eager to enforce parking regulations upon the mistakes of others. Those who boldly assert [allegedly lawful delegated] authority to enforce rules are well advised not to break any.

And no... Property Managers rarely call the shots once the "Private Property Authorization Agreement" [translation: vehicle harvesting agreement] form is signed... and in worst cases the property manager becomes no-longer-in-the-loop of participating in the tow decision.

I must say, that I do have a tremendous respect for tow operators who are out there day and night in the worst conditions and trying to hook a dirty wet chain under a vehicle in sub-zero temps to pull it out of a snow-filled median. But wait! ...That’s the OTHER kind of tow operator, who actually responds to a tow call in less than 2-1/2 hours because his guys aren't lurking and patrolling for splitting-hairs minor parking infractions not wanting to risk a missed opportunity for an 'immediate tow'. That's the kind of tow operator who doesn't involve himself in PPI tows, trespass tows, surveillance tows... That's the OTHER kind of tow operator who doesn't run over and kill a man with his tow truck and run over him again with his own Chevrolet Suburban in tow behind it, when the man was trying to catch the driver get his Suburban released - but the driver was too focused on avoiding a less profitable 'on-lot-drop' (as documented in a California case).

Frankly, it's time to put the authority of the property owner to request or order a tow... BACK in the hands of the property owner... and if he doesn't like getting a phone call from an angry tenant at 2:30am - too bad! Granting full autonomy to tow drivers [in a patrol towing agreement] to freely make tow decisions is a moral hazard and quite possibly a perverse incentive.

Tim Barrett

Anonymous said...

I liked what towmater said in one of your older post's, He sounds in the know. Perhaps we need more sweeping legislation to regulate this industry.

towmater said...
Let me give you a couple more things to think about.

These are all the companies owned by a Mr. Gary Coe.

(1)Private Parking Auditors: Patrols parking lots and writes tickets, calls for Retriever for the tows.
(2)Retriever Towing:tows cars for parking infractions, patrols parking lots and handles district 3 police calls.Has two impound lots and shares three of Speeds Supertow's four lots.
(3)Oregon Lien:Puts liens on the impounded cars so that they can be auctioned. They do this for both Speeds and Retriever with in about a week of being impounded.
(4)Speeds Auction Yard:Sells the cars not picked up from auction. For both Speeds and Retriever. They also auction cars for just about every charity you could imagine, not for free though.
(5)Speeds Supertow:Normal Towing. You call they come get you. They also handle police call's for district 5 and 8. They charge more than any other tow in town and they give a 20% discount to dealership's and shop's. The dealership's and shop's in turn charge full price to the cars owner for the tow and make a nice profit for picking speeds.
(6)Fleet Sales West:Custom makes tow trucks and towing equipment. They're the only one in town, so everyone go's to them or has it brought from out of state. They're also called Golden West Towing in California.
(7)Speeds Auto Service:Does all the fleet maitenance for not only the tow trucks but all Gary's other companies and they'll turn a wrench for people off the street. They're also a car dealership for the nicer cars.
(8)Speeds Auto Body:Does all the body work for the fleet of tow trucks and anyone they bump into.
(9)Auto Adventure:Chops cars up for parts and sells those parts nation wide.
(10)Coe Cunsulting:Sell's the secret's to Gary Coe's success in twelve easy step's.
(11)Cascade Coach Town Cars:Drives people around like a taxi but for alot more.
(12)Pacific Executive Service town cars: Also does the expensive taxi service but mostly to the airport.

Gary has the American dream, a monopoly. He has his finger's in three police districts. No other tow company can claim that inside Portland. He has over fifty trucks (all new) and six impound yards totle. Bigger than anyone else in the State of Oregon. Gary controls a lyons share of the contracts with dealerships and shops through 20% disscount/kick backs. Gary also has his own lobbyist in the Oregon Legislator and has been President of several towing organizations.

The Tow Truck Drivers are poor and manipulated. They make commission off the tow. So it's in there best interest to tow alot and bend the rules, speed, cut corner's. They have no Union, no medical benefit's. Most will be hurt several times on the job and will only last a couple of years. None of these drivers have certification or CDL's. There training is in house or if they're lucky a traveling trainer (NATA)will come through town and give them some wall paper. Nobody ever fails those schools and there hosted on company property. All these driver's sign a non-disclosure when hired so they can never speak about the truth. They Drive 12 to 14 hour's a day and have 24 hour on call shifts which mean's there on the road more than a driver with a CDL legaly could be. Big Rig's are only aloud to drive for elevan hours and they have to keep a log. Many of these Tow trucks are as big as a semi truck too. Yes, many of these driver's are rude. But under these conditions who wouldnt be. Everybody hates them including there boss, they get little sleep, sacrifice there families, make $30,000 a year for it and are constantly exposed to stress and confrontations. I hope you'll take all this to heart. I know it might not be printed do to libel concerns, but if you investigate it at all you'll see it's all fact. Thank You.