- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

New towing regulations announced this week by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams do not clearly indicate whose responsibility it is to notify the owner of a vehicle that has been towed.
The current city code says it's the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police Department or the Department of Public Works to notify owners of a towed vehicle. But the newly announced regulations do not indicate whether it's up to police, public works or the towing company to contact the owner.
Notification is the industry's biggest problem, according to one towing company owner, who said the new regulations would do nothing to solve it.
"I've seen the regulations and I've read them through," said Terrence Ross, the owner of R&R; Towing and Recovery.
"They're changing the whole system, and the system is not the problem. The problem was that police officers aren't doing their jobs, and owners aren't getting notified when their cars get towed," said Mr. Ross, who added that many of the city's towing operators are troubled by the new regulations.
Mr. Ross' company is one of seven towing businesses that, along with the Metropolitan Police Department, were named last month in a class-action lawsuit accusing the companies of conspiring with police officers to illegally confiscate cars and charge exorbitant storage fees.
Phillip Friedman, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said he's been contacted by more than 80 persons seeking to join since the suit was first reported in the Jan. 9 edition of The Washington Times.
"Someone has to be responsible for notifiying the owner of car that has been towed," Mr. Friedman said. "If you don't have that, how … can you solve this problem?"
Title 18 of the D.C. Municipal Code states that "it is the duty of the Police or the Department of Public Works … to notify the owner of the vehicle as soon as is practical."
The code does not specify how much time the city has to notify the owner.
"At least the current laws put some responsibility on somebody to notify the owner," Mr. Friedman said. "The mayor's new regulations don't even do that."
Officials with the mayor's office acknowledge that they purposely created the new regulations without indicating whose responsibility it will be in the future to notify the owners of towed cars.
"The new regulations are really aimed at the towing industry," rather than D.C. police, said Erik S. Gaull, the city administrator's director of operational improvements. "We recognize that there are certain policies that we need to change."
Mr. Williams vowed to draft the new regulations the first effort to clean up the city's towing industry in more than 35 years last August after a report issued by the office of Inspector General Charles C. Maddox uncovered illegal towing schemes involving police officers.
Officials in the inspector general's office yesterday said they were not entirely satisfied with the new regulations.
"One of the major points of our report was to recommend that regulations be put in place to ensure that owners are notified when their cars are towed," said Gloria Johnson, Mr. Maddox's spokeswoman.
In announcing the new regulations Wednesday, the mayor was joined by officials with the FBI, who recently concluded a four-year-long investigation into the towing industry.
Operation Towhook, a covert mission that began in January 1998, resulted in 60 arrests 29 of which ended in convictions of people involved in towing scams.
The mayor's regulations were published last Friday in the D.C. Register and will be available for public comment until March 20, when they will be revised and then sent to D.C. Council for final approval, Mr. Gaull said.
He also said "there is a hesitancy to lay the responsibility of notifying owners of towed cars entirely on the Department of Public Works."
"To lock it down that way would make it very difficult for us to go back and change it later if we feel like it's not the best idea," he said. "It's really one of the areas we're looking for public comment on."

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