- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday said the Metropolitan Police Department should be responsible for notifying the owners of cars towed at the request of police officers.
"I don't care who tows it," Chief Ramsey said. "If it's towed at the request of D.C. police, we should notify the owner. If we can't get a person on the phone then a registered mail would go out to notify the owner."
New towing regulations announced last week by Mayor Anthony A. Williams do not clearly indicate whose responsibility it is the towing company, the police officers who request the tow, or the Department of Public Works employees who are supposed to track the car after it is towed to notify the owner of a towed car.
Asked about the new regulations, Chief Ramsey said, the Metropolitan Police Department is "recommending that if we tow the car let's say it's a [stolen] car and we recover it that we would also notify the owner."
Mr. Williams, a Democrat, promised to draft the regulations last August after a report issued by the office of Inspector General Charles C. Maddox uncovered illegal towing schemes involving police officers and towing companies.
Chief Ramsey declined to comment on a class-action lawsuit filed last month accusing the Metropolitan Police Department along with seven of the city's towing companies of conspiring to illegally confiscate cars, not notify owners and then charge exorbitant storage fees.
Phillip Friedman, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said he's been contacted by more than 80 persons seeking to join the suit since it was first reported in the Jan. 9 edition of The Washington Times.
Terrence Ross, the owner of one of the companies named in the class-action suit, told The Times last week that notification of the owners of towed cars is the industry's biggest problem. He added that the mayor's "new regulations would do nothing to solve it."
Officials with the mayor's office acknowledge that they purposely created the new towing regulations without indicating whose responsibility it will be in the future to notify the owners of towed cars.
"We're not trying to dodge the responsibility," said Erik S. Gaull, the city administrator's director of operational improvements. "It will be administratively assigned. It won't be in the regulations."
He said once the new regulations take effect, the mayor's office plans to hire a company to develop a computer bank that will be able to automatically contact the owner of a car within hours after it is towed.
The system would operate out of the Department of Public Works and "ideally" would generate a certified letter to the car owner, Mr. Gaull said.
It also would make an automatic e-mail notification to the insurance company that is linked to the car's license plate number and it would use a computerized calling system to contact the car owner's home telephone.
"It doesn't make sense to specify in the regulations which city agency is responsible because if, at a later date, we would like to shift the responsibility, then we would have to amend the regulations, Mr. Gaull added.
Instead, if the responsibility for notifying owners of towed vehicles is specified administratively, then "we can make amendments through a mayor's order," he said.
But D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said yesterday that "if the mayor and the police chief have worked out an arrangement where the police make the notification, that's fine with me, as long as it's made right away."
"I just want these towing regulations in place, the sooner the better," she said.
The regulations were published Feb. 15 in the D.C. Register and will be available for public comment until March 20, when they will be revised, then sent to D.C. Council for final approval.
A copy of the register can be obtained by members of the general public at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at Ninth and G streets NW.

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