Sunday, August 31, 2008

In St. Paul, Minnesota, Who Makes Sure The "You Will Be Towed" Signs Are Even Readable?

Photo by John Hoff

I spent hours biking around St. Paul today, checking out the routes protests will take during RNC 2008, so I can record and report upon the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle with some degree of insight about the terrain. But along the way I noticed...

...this sign at the "Midway Center" strip mall, and I had to wonder: Who in city government makes sure cars are towed fairly vis-a-vis whether the parking lot warning signs are even READABLE? You can look at this piece of junk above and figure out the answer for St. Paul, Minnesota.


RNC 2008 Convention and Protests: Fear of Being Towed Halts History Right In Its Tracks

Photo by John Hoff

This week I am mostly blogging at about the spectacle and excitement surrounding RNC 2008 here in the Twin Cities, but predatory and abusive towing inevitably intrudes its ugly, oily head...

At this moment--literally as I type these words, a crowd of 175 to 200 is in the midst of "marshal training" to try to keep peace at the massive political demonstrations expected tomorrow near XCel Center and the Minnesota State Capitol during RNC 2008. During introductions, one of the participants apologized. He had to leave. He was worried his car would get towed.

"It's Sunday!" some in the crowd said. But a lot of them were simply unfamiliar with the situation on the "West Bank" area of Minneapolis.

"No, you gotta pay every day on the West Bank," somebody clarified.

"The people on the West Bank are politically powerless," I piped up. "And they aren't able to get free Sunday parking like most of the rest of Minneapolis."

So while the other participants learned interesting "de-escalation" tactics to keep the protests from getting out of hand (or, from another perspective, from actually having a meaningful impact) this poor guy had to slink away from the room and deal with his vehicle, even as friends and comrades in the room offered coins, if that would help.

Predatory and abusive towing messes up everything. History should be rolling along, but it isn't, because its wheels are being booted, or pulled up a flatbed tow truck and hauled off to some stinky impound lot to be held hostage for some ridiculous amount of money.

I bet the CONVENTION DELEGATES aren't worried about where they will park, though. They are safe in the parking garages of the posh hotels or riding taxis, because most of them flew here. But the situation was reversed a week ago in Denver. This isn't about blue or red, or green, for that matter. It isn't about democrat, republican, green, or libertarian.

It's about treating people fairly versus treating them badly. And Minneapolis treats people very badly when it comes to towing.

Friday, August 29, 2008

FBI Seeks St. Louis Towing Information photo

Media in St. Louis recently carried a public service announcement (PSA) on behalf of the FBI, which I feel pretty comfortable reproducing verbatim...

...or, well, pretty close to verbatim. Adding a picture of former Police Chief Joe Mokwa was my own little touch.

According to the PSA, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service (!!!) are seeking public assistance to identify people who had their vehicles towed or held by St. Louis Metropolitan Towing, S & H Parking, or Parks Auto Sales. (Of St. Louis)

IF YOUR VEHICLE WAS TOWED IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS, the FBI and the IRS would like you to log onto the St. Louis FBI Web site at to complete a brief survey under the heading "Towing Survey."

If you prefer, you may also call a tip line at 1-800-225-5324.

Here is my little comment: there are a number of ugly towing scandals all over the nation including. So why isn't the FBI and IRS getting into those scandals, as well? Is it only the possibility of police corruption which draws these much-needed federal resources to get to the bottom of an ugly towing scandal?

Towing Operators Take Springfield, Massachusetts On A Ride photo, West Springfield, Mass.

It sounds like something out of Star Wars: in Springfield, Massachusetts there is not just one company but a "towing alliance" which tows vehicles for the city. And--surprise, surprise--like so many OTHER cities in this nation, Springfield is caught up in a tawdry fiscal scandal involving towing.

Gasp! Has "the alliance" gone over to the Dark Side?

Well, according to...

..."the alliance," it is actually THE CITY which owes money to THE ALLIANCE. Some details can be found in this article (click here) in The Republican newspaper. For example, tow trucks were supposed to be inspected by the police, but it appears inspected trucks weren't always the vehicles used. Required paperwork such as--oh, my word--the all-important tow slips provided to police was only provided off and on, according to city officials.

The City Auditor says the company is out of compliance. "The alliance" says otherwise. Gee, who are you going to believe; the City Auditor or towing operators who don't even turn over tow slips to police when they're supposed to?

Other cities have better deals

Some cities--like Escondito, California--actually make the towing operators pay big bucks for the privilege of towing cars on behalf of the municipal government, like I blogged about here.

In contrast, "the alliance" pays Springfield a mere $2,050 a month to store vehicles at a city-owned impound lot, according to The Republican. The city gets a $30 administrative fee for every vehicle towed unless the tow was later deemed improper by the police. GEE, IS IT ANY WONDER--!!!!

Oh, excuse me, I was nearly shouting, there.

I was going to say: is it any wonder "the alliance" doesn't properly turn over its towing slips? It sounds like vehicles "improperly" towed may end up becoming a cost "the alliance" is forced to absorb. (Offset by salvage or auction value) Therefore, better to not turn over your towing slips so the tow can't be scrutinized as easily.

Adding insult to injury

Not content with trying to rip off Springfield city government, "the alliance" now wants permission to sell "used cars" (read: seized cars owners couldn't afford to redeem) out of the city's impound lot.

"The alliance" under investigation

A report about the situation--who owes money to who, and exactly why--is due September 8, 2008. The Republican says the numbers appear to crunch out this way, however: with 8,000 tows done from May 2007 to last month, and with $49.17 per tow due under the contract, that means the city should receive nearly $400,000. Has the city gotten that much?


Confusion over the numbers

The president of "the alliance" says the number of tows is more like 7,000. However, the police sergeant who oversees towing says it isn't always clear which of the subcontractors in "the alliance" performed which particular tows. Rival tow companies accuse the city of going easy on "the alliance." Yeah, if you want to get the dirt on a towing company (or even an "alliance") just ask their competition.

Time for talk is over

City Councilor Timothy J. Rooke is showing impatience with "the alliance," and has said the "time for talk is over" in light of issues of non-compliance, even as the lawyer for "the alliance" stresses trying to work out some kind of resolution through negotiation.

Of course. And all the while, "the alliance" will be towing people's cars, submitting who-knows-what for paperwork, and angling to sell seized cars right out of the city's impound lot to the same low-income people routinely victimized by the increasing national trend of predatory and abusive towing. Didn't anybody see that new "Clone Wars" movie? When somebody is stressing "negotiation," they're probably stalling to outflank your forces.

Just how much is owed?

An earlier Republican article about "the alliance" (click here) seemed to estimate "the alliance" owes $81,000 to the City of Springfield, some of which includes utilities.

Dude, where's my car?

More maddening is the eternal question of what has happened to a car after it is towed. The City--and Councilor Rooke, in particular--accuse "the alliance" of incomplete vehicle status reports and "insufficient documentation of the disposal of salvaged or auctioned vehicles," according to the Republic.

This is the kind of thing which calls for high-tech solutions, better software, that kind of thing. The days when "Cooter" could thumb through a greasy pink pile of slips and tell them Duke boys what happened to Daisy's cute little Jeep are over. People should be able to track their car via the internet. This is the better world was created to push for. So here I am pushing for it.

Juicy blog-o-sphere details

Though the Republican article is good, and was my initial source to learn of this run-of-the-mill towing industry scandal (yawn. Another day, another ugly towing industry scandal) a local blog called "The Intruder" had a lot more details and discussion about the conflict.

According to the intruder, (click for article) the city's contract with "the alliance" is only 14 months old. That's how l0ng it took Springfield, Massachusetts to run into trouble with its towing contractor. There have apparently been a lot of letters and notifications, plus disgruntled residents.

The Intruder also outlined some much-needed details about "the alliance," describing it as an "umbrella organization" composed originally (stomp, stomp) of nine towing subcontractors. That little word "originally" hides a sordid little saga, and I'll be getting to that. (Thanks to the article from The Intruder, of course)

Digging through the guts for info-nuggets

The Intruder article went right into the messy paper innards of the contract with the city, the kind of policy wonk detail which would bore most readers of a publication like The Republican to tears. For example, "the alliance" promised DAILY COMMUNICATION with the police department project manager to go over issues and concerns. That hasn't happened. The city is firing off letters, not having easy daily chats.

"The alliance" made all kinds of promises in the dark, as it turned out, including such whoppers as GPS implementation for monitoring tow vehicle progress and providing "scanned copies of letters" to the drivers whose vehicles were towed.

What did "the alliance" deliver to the City of Springfield? The Intruder summary, apparently taken directly from a "draft audit report" dated March 2008, is damning. And because it's so damning, I'm going to present it verbatim, with profuse thanks to The Intruder for being the source of this information.

* Fees owed to the city, 1,429 tows which amounts to $71,093. (Note how different this number was from the Republican article. What is up, there?)

* Late payments. Insufficient documentation on the fate of salvaged and auctioned vehicles.

* NO ONLINE COMMUNICATIONS OR REMOTE ACCESS TO TOWING DATA. (This is one of the issues I'm always pushing as a good solution to predatory and abusive towing, so I can't help capitalizing it)

* Unpaid utilities; $10,285.49. Incomplete, improper form filings. Failure to submit CORI/SORB reviews for employees. (I don't know what that is, but I have to wonder if it involves background checks on tow truck drivers, a notoriously felonious lot)

* Not all vehicles equipped with "GPS functionality." (I wonder what that means, and it seemed like the author of the Intruder article may have wondered, too. I think it might mean: sometimes no GPS, sometimes the GPS doesn't work, and sometimes--as my drill sergeant used to say--to find the root of the technical problem you must "check operator headspace capacity.")


Subsequent report: even more damning

Gotta keep digging for those info-nuggets, and that's what The Intruder did.

* According to a later "contract compliance review," not all vehicles were equipped with GPS devices. (I kind of thought that might have been part of the "functionality" issue) NO DOCUMENTATION WHATSOEVER on individual drivers. (Can you say "scary prison tattoos?")

* "The alliance" said it was granted an exemption to the 600 vehicle storage requirement, but can't present any proof.

* Failing to post towing and storage rates. (This is how money ends up in somebody's pocket where it doesn't belong) Failing to tell owners within 36 hours of vehicles stored at the facility. (This is why we need REMOTE ACCESS TO TOWING DATA for members of the public)

* Failing to notify police--even one time--of unclaimed vehicles. The notion of no unclaimed vehicles at a facility this large is just...impossible to believe.

A detailed and damning indictment

The (rather long) Intruder article continues in this vein for quite some time, and rather than replicating their detailed content and commenting about it, here is an "oily thumbnail summary."

* Rival CJ Towing collected a load of damaging information about "the alliance" and distributed it. The info mostly consisted of city letters and complaints from residents "in distress" about the way they were treated.

* "Unilateral" and un-contracted, un-negotiated charges by "the alliance," sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars for an individual vehicle.

* Who is even part of this "alliance?" There is considerable evidence the membership is unstable and fluid, rather like the way you never know which way the "Hut clan" will throw its allegiance in the recent Clone Wars cartoon.

* Mascaro's Service Station was part of "the alliance," but fell out of favor with "alliance president Jones" after pointing out problems with "the way things were done." What were some of these little bitty problems?

"Bills need to be paid, employees need to be paid," according to Ron Mascaro.

* In one instance, a towing dispatcher was described as "incoherent."

* "President Jones" apparently has filed for bankruptcy. Twice.

The "sub-blogosphere" weighs in

* Somebody who apparently has inside dope--but preferred to comment anonymously--tried to dish up a lot of dope on "alliance" critic Ron Mascaro, saying, "he went years and years not paying any taxes to the city for the properties he has on Walnut Street and Florence Street, and Hancock Street under the name MRL Associates." A member of the Mascaro family got on the blog, and provided a detailed and (I thought) rather satisfactory rebuttal.

* Councilor Rooke commented on the blog, crediting the blog story with raising the issue and getting the rest of the city council interested.

Ah, I love being a blogger.

Who suffers?

But at the end of the day, who suffers? It is the citizens who are subjected to shoddy towing practices and can't find their vehicles. Finding the bad guys in this scandal is the first step, but what should be done to FIX the problem? Clearly, there needs to be a more modern, high-tech system in place which allows a very open process where abuses can't occur so easily and cars can be tracked from beginning to end.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Surly, Suspicious, But Heroic Minneapolis Police Officers

Photo by John Hoff

I mentioned in my previous post how the officers who took the report about my vehicle being vandalized were "surly" and "suspicious," but I saw them later at another incident...

Here is a picture of that incident. According to a local television station, a couple of suspects were fleeing in a stolen car. Well, actually, I saw part of the chase as they whipped around the intersection of 30th Ave. N. and 6th St. N., heedless of pedestrians.

The car ended up in the front porch of a house, aflame. Nobody was in the house, but a cat is "missing and presumed dead." Both suspects were caught. Bystanders told me one of them was "a bloody mess" but tried to flee, anyway.

In the photo above, the officer who was taking my boring little vehicle vandalism report a short while earlier is interacting with the owner of the house, who arrived to witness--well, THIS!

It's no wonder they're surly.

But, yes, they could be LESS SO.

Victimized TWICE In Minneapolis (Crackheads Or Tow Trucks, Take Your Pick)

Photo by John Hoff

So I was gone for about a week, there, picking up some money as a commercial driver on a five-state run and while I was out of town crackheads attacked one of my vehicles, no doubt due to my persistent 911 calls about drug dealing and prostitution on 6th Street North in Minneapolis. But the worst was yet to come...

So, yeah, things are admittedly pretty rough on the 3000 block of 6th Street North, which I've renamed Comprehensive Insurance Boulevard. Some months ago, I had four tires slashed, which was what made me get "comp" insurance in the first place. My car is a piece of junk, like most of the vehicles I've owned, as I mentioned in one of my very first posts, so normally comprehensive insurance would be a waste, right?

But after the four slashed tires, and my friend Peter Teachout getting his truck torched on the Fourth of July by crackheads, I figured "comp" was not such a waste, after all. When I left town, I asked Peter to watch my vehicle. I didn't expect him to, like, lay down his life and defend it or anything. Rather, I hoped if the vehicle was torched or tire-slashed or window-smashed, he'd call me and call the appropriate authorities.

I was in Olney, Indiana, buying Rotella Brand 15W-30 oil for the Thermo King unit on my beautiful International brand truck when Peter called me. There in the parking lot of Walmart, I learned about the two slashed tires (curbside) and a smashed window on the front passenger side (also curbside, same side). Why not more damage? I'm guessing the little coward who went after my vehicle did a bit of damage, then got scared and ran away.

But here was the worst part: the City of Minneapolis had tagged my car as an "inoperable vehicle" and they were now threatening--in a very impersonal way, of course--to tow it and cause me even more financial cost and personal headaches.

So here I am a victim of drug-selling, prostituting crack heads who routinely go after vehicles on Comprehensive Insurance Boulevard, and the City of Minneapolis is threatening to tow my "inoperable" vehicle. And why is the vehicle inoperable? Well, because it has two slashed tires which the City, in its impersonal power and bureaucratic glory, couldn't manage to protect, rather like it can't protect Peter's truck, and rather like it can't manage to shut down the NOTORIOUS CRACK HOUSE AND BROTHEL at 3020 6th St. N.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the parking lot of Walmart in Olney, Indiana.

God bless my friend Jeff Skrenes, the Housing Director of the Hawthorne Area Community Council (HACC) who has some kind of ability to get a car towed for free. (I'm not going to provide the details) He towed the car to, well, the alley parking spaces of a vacant, foreclosed house next to his own apartment. It was a lot of fun explaining THAT to the nice police officers who took my report about the vehicle while I was trying to get the two slashed tires off and put the car up on cinderblocks.

(I'm not going to say where I got the cinderblocks, either)

The officers were incredibly surly and unsmiling. Every piece of information I gave them seemed to make them increasingly suspicious even though--good grief!--I was the one who flagged them down in the alley to ask for a report to be made. (Though I think perhaps it was a neighbor who called about suspicious activity in the alley, and much to her credit)

Well, no matter. The cops took my information and gave me the precious police report number for my insurance company, which knew about the incident shortly after I knew about it, myself. (I called them from that same parking lot in Olney, Indiana) I don't want to criticize those cops too much. A few hours later, I saw those same two officers at the scene of a blazing house fire, caused by a driver fleeing with a stolen vehicle and crashing into the house. In fact, I have a picture and I'll be posting it here shortly.

It was nasty, filthy work getting those two tires off in the hot sun, then driving to my favorite mechanic at Highland Auto Tire, (couldn't patch, had to get new tires) then going back, putting the new tires on, (I love that new tire smell, though!) and then tossing a piece of insulation in the front seat to sit on, because the front seat was SO FULL OF GLASS.

A kid came along, riding his sister's bike, limping on a flat tire. My friend Jake was with me this whole time, shooting video for the documentary they are doing about the impact of the mortgage crisis on North Minneapolis. Jake helped the kid pump up his tire with my manual tire pump, while I was under my car messing around with a jack.

The bike tire had a slow leak, not unlike the slow leak which had long ago caused me to get that manual tire pump.

"Give the pump to the kid," I told Jake. "Just let him have it."

I drove to ABRA Auto Body and Glass while sitting on the insulation, and while I was waiting for an estimate to be completed, I snapped the picture above. The end results: I paid $110 for two new tires, an incredibly good deal. The replacement value of the window was $200, exactly what the car itself was worth. Minus my $50 deductable, American Family Insurance is mailing me a check for $260.

I plan to take that vehicle to my brother and trade it for another vehicle. Two incidents with the 1988 Celebrity is enough. Next time they'll probably go after the driver. (Oh, gee, that's me)

I can't blame a crackhead for being a crack head. I fight them constantly by taking pictures, calling 911, shooting video, and blogging on my other blog. Of course they're going to be mad and go after my vehicle, IF I'M LUCKY.

And yet with all this modern technology--enough so Minneapolis police officers can run a license plate, they can track down who owns the car--I can't get notified by cell phone and email of an impending tow after crackheads mess up my vehicle while I am out of town for a week. That's not right. I was victimized once by crackheads. I was victimized AGAIN by a plodding, impersonal system which stupidly, crudely, ruthlessly snatches cars off the street without any real smarts.

Minneapolis was what made me start this blog. And this week Minneapolis helped convince me must continue to raise these issues.

I was fortunate. My vehicle didn't get torched like Peter's truck. Other citizens suffer worse and do not have a blog to make their voice heard. For those citizens, I will continue to fight abusive and predatory towing practices.

Using A Tow Truck To Steal A Car In Provo, Utah photo, Provo, Utah

I know what you're thinking.

"Don't tow truck drivers 'steal' cars all the time?" I thought so, too...

...but apparently in Provo, Utah, the local media was determined to make a fine-tuned distinction. Check out this very short story by clicking here.

Really, what gets me excited about this story is the fact it just put Utah on the Towing Utopia map. I guess the coin-collector in me is coming out: I like to make a complete set, in this case a set of states where predatory and abusive towing practices have been documented. Thanks to George William Peahl, 45, Utah is now part of that set.

Good ol' George simply used the tow truck of "a towing company in Lindon" (sic) to steal a Volkswagon Vanagon. He took it to a scrapyard in American Fork and sold it for $200. The car's owner somehow found the car at the auto wrecking yard. (The story doesn't specify how, and that's the maddening part of the on earth did this car owner actually FIND their vehicle? Oh, also, WHICH towing company in Lindon? Why would the media fail to disclose this information?)

George admitted stealing the car when he was arrested, once again proving George is not very bright. Oh, and he was working for the (unnamed, anonymous) towing company while his license was REVOKED. Why am I not surprised?

Oh, some explanation of the photo above might be required. Well, I needed an image for Provo, Utah and I thought this one of double-wide trailers was sort of...artsy.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Towing Operator Accused Of "Double Dipping" While Under Contract With Ames, Iowa photo

I guess I don't expect too much towing scandal in the State of Iowa. In fact, I've never before blogged about any incidents in Iowa. But with this article Micheal Louis, 51, the owner of Mike Louis Auto Body Repair and Towing, just put Iowa on the Towing Utopia map...

According to reporter Luke Jennett, Louis was arrested for double-billing while under contract with the City of Ames. "Icing on the cake" charges include fraudulent insurance submission, ongoing criminal conduct, second-degree theft and third-degree fraudulent practices. He is being held on $60,000 bail.

Police have concluded Louis was using two sets of books: one for the city and one for the insurance companies. He would charge insurance companies whopping fees but the paperwork he showed the City of Ames had the agreed upon rate. Because their own department administered this contract, Ames police were forced to shift the investigation to the Iowa State University Department of Public Safety.

Louis says (through his lawyer) it's all a big smear campaign and he has done nothing wrong. Supposedly this is a political vendetta set off by Louis suing the city, alleging breach of contract.

Oh, and he wants his bail reduced.

I'm kind of surprised he hasn't posted bail. In a purely speculative way, I chalk it up to two possibilities:

1.) He's an incredible cheapskate who wants to hold out for a better deal, despite the fact he has plenty of money socked away from sticking it to the public.

2.) Vice. Only some kind of expensive personal weakness could account for taking in so much money from dubious towing practices, but not having enough money on hand to--good heavens!--secure one's own freedom.

Then again, how rough could incarceration be in Ames, Iowa?

"Um, so what are you in for?"

"They say I'm a pig rustler."

My own search of the jail roster reveals no Michael Louis. I suspect he already made bail.

Towing Operators Arrested In Palm Springs For Allegedly Stealing Cars, Overcharging

KMIR image, fair comment and criticism

There is a cryptic report coming out of Palm Springs, California of towing operators arrested for extortion, conspiracy, and taking cars without the owner's consent. I say the story is "cryptic" because...

...the television station reporting it, KMIR, doesn't even reveal the name of the towing company in the text of their online story. However, two images associated with the story bear the name "Desert Automotive Specialists." A Google search reveals a "Desert Automotive Specialists, LLC" is associated with Jason Slater and Micheal Slater, two names mentioned in the KMIR story.

The Slaters are each charged with 6 counts of extortion, 2 counts of conspiracy, and 4 counts of taking a vehicle without the owner's consent, according to KMIR. The story sums up the charges this way: stealing cars and overcharging people to get their cars out of impound.

Two other individuals--Michael Mata and David Taylor--are charged with one count of extortion.

Still on the loose and sought by authorities are two employees: Paul Mata and Jose Moreno.

Towing Utopia Dot Com says: Turn yourselves in, gentlemen.

Oceanside, California Dishes Out Abusive, Predatory Towing At Traffic Checkpoints photo

Two things Oceanside, California has in common with Escondido.

1.) Both cities have traffic checkpoints where the vehicles of uninsured, unlicensed drivers are seized for excessive periods of time and sums of money.

2.) Both cities like to "prettify" their city hall buildings. Check out the image above! Way to go, Oceanside!

But in regard to seizing vehicles, this article...

...tells the tale of Oceanside resident Tammy Bridges, who seems to be a bit of a space cadet. A stay-at-home mother of two, she didn't bother to renew her drivers license despite getting a routine renewal notice in the mail. About four months later, she discovered her mistake at a traffic checkpoint.

Bridges was told her vehicle was going to "car jail." Because she was alone, police confiscated her vehicle, forcing the 41-year-old mother to walk two miles. (If another licensed driver had been along, that person could have taken the car home)

To make the situation worse, Space Cadet Tammy managed to ignore another piece of paperwork which arrived in the mail: new charges for driving without a license. Fees racked up once again before she discovered her mistake. Now Tammy's husband is in charge of the household paperwork.

Tammy's family isn't struggling too much, economically, despite the tough economy. They managed to handle the costs of the misadventure without resorting to credit cards. Just barely.

Yet because of her experience, Tammy sees how the costs of vehicle seizure could be devastating for struggling families. The story also sparked quite an interesting online discussion about the issues associated with the checkpoints and vehicles being seized and towed away. Here is my sifting to pull out the "virtual wheat" from the internet chaff.

* "Bob" said the fees for various infractions are crazy, and for $60 to $70 you could "truly feed a family for a week."

* A poster called "Government Thugs" said it was more cost effective to drive a "desposable" [sic] junker. If the police seize it, let them keep it.

* A pster called "Hmmm" agreed Tammy was irresponsible, but the fees and fines in California are "way out of hand." Gouging people for little mistakes tears down everybody's faith in the system.

* After a storm of blogging about "no license, no insurance" a guy who claimed to actually be an insurance against said his policies cover the car, not the driver. So claiming Tammy was driving around without insurance probably wasn't even true. Another blogger said the better solution would have been issuing Tammy a "fix it" ticket and letting her go.

* A poster named Mya related the following horror story where only the towing company managed to get rich: Her husband went to traffic court in Hemet, California, for a traffic violation. The violation was dismissed and he walked out of court with his paperwork.

A couple months later--on an Easter Sunday--he was stopped at a checkpoint and told his license had been suspended for failure to appear in court. Naturally, he protested this had to be some kind of mistake. Quite clearly, he remembers an officer saying "If it is indeed a mistake by the DMV or the courthouse, you will be reimbursed by the police department."

You can guess the rest. Some clerk had forgotten to complete the paperwork at the courthouse. But did the guy get reimbursed for getting his car towed? He did not. The police department refused his claim and told him to "give up" because his claim would be denied "each time."

Total cost for being an innocent driver at a checkpoint: One day of lost wages, $500 in towing and storage fees.

* One poster claimed the checkpoints seize and have towed as many as 30 cars in one day, and claimed this adds up to about $45,000 if the vehicles are held for 30 days.

Escondido's Appetite For Revenue Is Insatiable photo

Just today, word comes of numerous city fees being jacked up in Escondido, California, including police department fees on towed vehicles. ($135 to $175, or $175 to $200, depending on the size of the vehicle)

But to take away the pain, sort of, I offer an image of the rotunda of lovely Escondido City Hall.

Feast your eyes on this, folks! Your tax dollars hard at work building this spectacular temple to the glory of municipal bureaucrats.

(Do not click "Read More")

Escondido, Calif. Continues To Rake In $$$ From Abusive Towing Checkpoints photo

An article by reporter Edward Sifuentes of the North County Times gives more details of the checkpoints in Escondido which I blogged about earlier, click here and here, plus the article sparked a fiery discussion in online comments...

Some of the comments provided interesting details and arguement about the situation with the checkpoints, though it was mostly an unproductive debate about immigration policy; with the usual sides staking out their usual positions. As I've said before, with the Abbey Court situation in North Carolina: don't get sidetracked by who is being targeted and all the other issues wrapped up in that targeting. Instead, focus on whether the towing practice is INHERENTLY ABUSIVE AND PREDATORY.

But first of all, before I start digging around in the virtual muck, let us pause for a serene moment of reflection and architectural appreciation. CHECK OUT this gorgeous Escondido City Hall building! Would you think a relatively small city like Escondido would have something this nice? I tell ya, a lot of city revenue must have gone into THAT.

Now back to pawing around in the muck. Here is a sifting of the commentary which resulted from Sifuente's informative article.

* One commentator was gleeful there was finally a [financial] upside from "illegal alien drivers," and said "Let's have more of these checkpoints all across the country."

* A particularly informed commenter called "Escondeeter" said tow company fees and city fees are not BOTH revenue to the city of Escondido. The towing and storage fees go to the tow company. So any reference to "three million dollars" worth of business is money going to the towing companies, not the city.

Further, says "Escondeeter," since the towing companies pay a fat fee to the city they are NOT paying the city a "per vehicle fee" or a "percentage of their tow fees" as is the practice in some other cities. Escondeeter asserts (but does not provide proof) that the "bulk" of the towing companies' business with the city "comes from towing vehicles disabled as a result of traffic accidents or mechanical failure and from towing abandoned vehicles."

Sounds like "Escondeeter" knows quite a bit about the local towing industry. Hmmmm. Hmmmm. Things that make you go hmmmmmm.

* One poster asserted--without hard proof--that after 30 days the towing companies were releasing the vehicles to drivers with a valid license, even if those drivers weren't necessarily the registered owner of the vehicle. The poster asserted these vehicles were ending up right back on the road without a licensed driver behind the wheel.

Well, that means the city has a chance to catch the vehicle AGAIN and both the city and towing companies have another chance to make revenue. (I direct your attention, once again, to that really lovely city hall building, above) From a certain point of view you might say, "Everybody wins." But especially the towing companies (first) and city hall (second).

* A poster named Deatris was supportive of the checkpoints, but had a problem with the towing companies using the checkpoints to rake in money "hand over fist." Deatris said, "They [the towing companies] are the biggest crooks out there." (Apparently Deatris meant even in comparison to drivers without insurance or a license)

Deatris said, "I was recently in an accident and had to have my vehicle towed to El Norte tow yard. I had the vehicle removed from their yard not more than a half hour later. They not only charged me a $75 towing fee for towing [the vehicle] two miles but they stuck me with a $300 storage fee...for having the vehicle on their lot for a half hour. What a bunch of [mild expletive]."

* A poster named "januaryM" asserted the City of Escondido had incurred a bill of $50,000 for a study about parking problems, only to discover there were no parking problems. The poster asserted "election games" were being played around the issue of parking.

* Another shill for a towing company said, "How about costs" and listed some of the costs of operating a towing service. Flying in the face of common knowledge about world scrap metal prices versus junked vehicles, the shill said, "Then there's the problem of write-offs...people with a five hundred buck car bought on a street corner who just walk away and leave the tow company stuck with the costs of disposing of the car."

Here are the facts: My own brother manages to make a very good living by paying $200 per vehicle, stripping out copper radiators (on older model cars) and catalytic converters, plus oil and gasoline, and selling the vehicles for scrap. So being able to haul off one of those $500 cars is a bonus, not an unexpected expense.

Sure, one might have to "write off" storage fees, but those weren't real costs, anyway, just outrageous revenues which weren't collected. The junk vehicles are still a sweet little source of profit, and it's insulting to the intelligence of the public to pretend otherwise.

* A poster named "Josh" asserts the towing and storage fees charged by Escondido ($150 towing and $30 per day storage) are "the lowest in any North County San Diego City." In Josh's argument, one sees a drastic limitation on the comparison being made. Oh, and no actual comparison figures are thrown out, either.

* "Escondido Surfer" supported the checkpoints, but thought it was "outrageous" to impound a vehicle for 30 days once the problems associated with the seizure have been solved. Who is being enriched? Private towing companies. Josh said, "[T]hese private storage yards are criminal enterprises enabled by the city."

* A poster from Oceanside asserted the Oceanside Police Department once estimated there were 10,000 unlicensed drivers in Oceanside alone. And to this I respond: Be quiet. Some politician will have a heart attack, just THINKING about all that revenue. (I direct your attention, once again, to the lovely building pictured at the top)

* Citizen X said, "I agree with taking unlicensed drivers off the streets, but why the exorbitant fees? You all know it's about the MONEY."

* A poster named Yolie wrapped up the chat with a good point: You would have to be blind to justice to ignore the excessive penalties and fees being assessed through vehicle confiscation. It's an unchecked travesty just like spiraling gas prices.


Towing Kickback Scheme Exposed In Chicago (This Blog Breaks Down The Numbers) photo

A Chicago police officer has been forced to turn in his badge and gun, and now stands accused of taking kickbacks to direct business to one particular towing company, and it's looking pretty bad for the officer...

...because one of the tow truck drivers was cooperating as a witness and the lame-brain officer actually kept a tally in his ticket book. The arrangement went on for two years, says this article.

According to reporter Alan Schmidt, the officer is accused of "raking in" $600 to $800 a week for steering business (nice pun) to a particular towing company. The article doesn't specify which towing company.

According to my 11-year-old son's calculations, 52 weeks a year times two years is 104 weeks. So 104 weeks times $600 a week (minimum) is $62,400. This is the minimum Officer Michael Ciancio, 56, allegedly raked in. If the estimate was off, and he actually made $800 a week, that would be $83,200. (Again, credit to my son who happens to be a math whiz, but didn't need to be for these calculations)

So the officer apparently raked in between $62,400 and $83,200. Wait, it gets better! Over the past 15 years...I say again, FIFTEEN YEARS!--the tow truck driver had similar arrangements with "other officers" in the same police district, and with a neighboring police district.

So let's do the same kind of math. How many officers are we talking about, here? Well, at a minimum, one more officer in Ciancio's district, and then one more officer in a neighboring district. So if one officer can rake in $600 a week, MINIMUM, that's $31,200. OK, so how much can three officers make every year, at a MINIMUM of $600 per week? The answer--and my son is starting to find this just a bit tedious compared to his video game--is $93,600.

OK, how much if those three officers were raking in $800 per week? Well, that would be $41,600 per officer. Times three officers per year is $124,800. (At this point, my son emits a low whistle and says, "That's a LOT!" The scandal is starting to draw his interest away from his video game, just a bit)

"Is there any more?" he asks, hopefully.

Yes, my son, there is. First of all, though, we can't put Officer Cianco all the way into our calculations, because he was only doing this for TWO YEARS. All we can do is assume there were TWO OTHER OFFICERS whose arrangement with the driver went on for fifteen years. OK, so if each officer made a minimum of $31,200 per year and a maximum of $41,600, then how much could two officers rake in, total, if they were on the take for 15 years?

OK, first my kid has to figure out how many weeks there are in 15 years. (15 x 52) There are 780 weeks in 15 years.

Take 780 and multiply it by the weekly income of $600. That would be $468,000 per officer, for 15 years. So if we double that (because there were two officers on the take for 15 years) then the minimum income for 15 years for those two officers would be $936,000.

OK, but now we need to figure out how much money could have been raked in, if it was actually $800 a week for 15 years. So take 780 and multiply it by the weekly income of $800. That would be $624,000. (My son is doing an excellent job keeping up, now that we've started using the calculator on his computer) Multiply this by two, because there were at least two officers on the take for the whole 15 years. So that would be $1,248,000.

(Yes, we've finally broken the million dollar figure)

OK, now take the minimum and maximum take of Officer Ciancio for two years. As we've established, his minimum take was $600 a week, for two years, so $62,400. His maximum take was $800 a week, so that would be $83,200.

Adding the 2-year Ciancio figures to the maximum and minimum 15-year take of the other two officers produces the following results.

$62,400 (Ciancio minimum 2 year take) plus $936,000 (the other two officers' minimum 15 year take) is $998,400.

(I'm disappointed. I had hoped the minimum number would break a million. But it's so close to a million it can be rounded up quite easily)

$83,200 (Ciancio maximum 2 year take) plus $1,248,000 (the other two officers' maximum 15 year take) produces a number of $1,331,200.

Final conclusion: According to simple math, the alleged towing kickback scheme raked in almost a million bucks, no matter how you slice it. Of course, this is assuming the minimum number of officers. If there were actually half a dozen officers involved--not just the minimum number--the maximum and minimum take will start to get outrageously high rather quickly.

NOW HERE IS THE SAD PART: This isn't anything unique. Towing kickbacks happen all over the nation because of non-consent towing systems that rake in huge amounts of money, but have too few controls or safeguards. It's not just Chicago. Similar flows of "oily cash" are driving abusive and predatory towing practices all over the nation.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More On Escondito "Tow Traps" Raking In Big Buck$ Photo

You've heard of a "speed trap?" What we see in Escondido is a "tow trap."

According to civil rights attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker, quoted in this article, the situation with on with Escondido's traffic checkpoints is...

..."outrageous," and completely driven by the city's desire to capture as much revenue as possible, not protect the public.

Named in the lawsuit are Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, and the citeis of Escondido, Maywood and Los Angeles. Notably--and I really want to track this down--the lawsuit cites a case by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that "towing a vehicle merely because a driver is unlicensed is an unreasonable seizure absent a showing that the vehicle poses a threat to public safety." The defense argues the case is not applicable because it was "based on an Oregon statute and not the California law."

Escondido has feebly kicked around some ideas to lessen the impact on drivers by having a city impound lot. Of course...the impact on drivers is secondary. The real idea would be to keep as much revenue as possible. Once again, even talk of helping the drivers is completely revenue-driven.

Companies involved in the current wicked scheme are Al's Towing, A-Z Enterprises, Allied Gardens Towing and El Norte Towing. The article notes "no other city in North County appears to charge towing companies up front for [their] contract." Yeah, I thought that was unusual, too, but obviously it's not a contract so much as a hunting license.

Vehicle owners can request a hearing to get their car back sooner than the 30 days mandated by state law. Forty percent of vehicle owners do this. Only 5 percent get their car back before 30 days. (According to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit)

Not content to merely seize vehicles at checkpoints, the City of Escondido is now plotting to restrict overnight parking on city streets.

Escondido doesn't sound like a very nice place to visit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Escondido, California: A Firestorm Is A-Brewing Over Abusive And Predatory Towing photo, firestorm in Escondido

According to this article, towing companies in Escondido are making so much money from seizing vehicles that they are prepared to pay the city government $100,000 a year for a hunting license.

Working class people and illegal immigrants from Mexico make up the vast majority of auto owners whose vehicles are seized...

It is a pure money grab, according to critics. (Critics with law degrees)

The towing is happening as a result of checkpoints designed to catch unlicensed drivers. The checkpoints generate millions for the city, and also millions for the towing companies because there is--check this out!--a "minimum 30 day storage fee" which costs $1,200 or more. The 30-day requirement is rooted in state law. Checkpoints are set up roughly twice a month, according to Escondido police.

Civil rights attorneys are up in arms and, well, they should be. Though an issue like this will generate a heated debate about unlicensed drivers (very bad) and uninsured drivers (arguably even worse) and even the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, the real injustice is charging so much to store a vehicle. What does the vehicle NEED which requires $1,200 a month? Breakfast in bed?

When the business is acting at the behest of government, the cost of storing a vehicle should be the ACTUAL COST, and then maybe a little more so the business can make a profit and have an incentive to do business with the government. What Escondido has done is basically issue a "hunting license" for cars and their owners.

And that's wrong. Even if the owners have played a role in having their cars seized in the first place--and, obviously, they have--this situation is still extortion.

The numbers provided by the article tell the tale: Four towing companies have contracted with the city for the right to haul away, gut, skin and dress--um, I mean IMPOUND--the vehicles. From 2004 to 2007, they paid $37,500 a year for a hunting license. This year they're happy to pay $75,000. Next year, they'll pay $100,000.

This is a real switch, it appears, on the situation in some cities where THE CITIES PAY MONEY TO THE TOWING COMPANIES FOR THEIR SERVICES. One's first thought is: well, if all the towing companies had to pay money to tow, maybe they wouldn't tow so abusively. But Escondido shows that's not true at all. These companies are willing to pay as much as $100k for the opportunity to squeeze even more out of citizens.

(Or, well, non-citizens, too)

A Victory To Crow About In The "Abusive Towing Uprising" At Abbey Court, Carrboro, North Carolina photo, Steel Rooster In Carrboro, NC

Word comes that booting has ceased at Abbey Court due to the accident in which a guy ran over his foot. Unaware his car had been booted, he got out of his vehicle to figure out why his vehicle wasn't moving, when the car suddenly lurched backward...

According to this article, Abbey Court has stopped the booting. This can only be called a victory for the folks fighting abusive and predatory towing (among other abhorrent slumlord practices) in Carrboro, North Carolina.

I'm watching this one closely, documenting it, and hoping their conflict will serve as a model for future uprisings all over the country and, who knows, maybe even Canada!

The illustration is a photo of a local landmark in Carrboro, a steel rooster at a coffee shop called the "Open Eye." Apparently it is something of a local landmark, and urban legend has it the rooster crows for the Carrboro Day gala celebration. A steel rooster who crows to alert people in Carrboro is a good symbol for an uprising against abusive towing.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Somebody at Abbey Court was trying to swipe his car, and he just wasn't going to allow it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

An Insanely Abusive Towing Scheme In Poughkeepsie, New York

Pictured above: Hudson River Hospital for the Insane, Poughkeepsie, New York

Poughkeepsie, New York officials find themselves facing a $1.85 million budget shortfall, but that's OK. They plan to balance the budget on the backs of citizens who get their vehicles towed...

According to this article, the evil plan involves increasing administrative fees to get back impounded cars from $50 to $75 (ka-ching) raising the towing fee from $65 to $100 (ka-ching) and jacking up storage costs for impounded cars from $10 to $25 per day. (ka--oh, never mind)

The focus of the article is on the fact police would now be able to impound vehicles with six or more delinquent parking tickets. (Before, the law was such vehicles could only be towed when found illegally parked) There was a whole lot of talk about cracking down on ticket scofflaws, but the towing fees appear to impact EVERYBODY, not just a small number of scofflaws.

By talking a whole lot about the scofflaws while increasing towing fees for EVERYBODY, the politicians pulled a bait-and-switch. Would it have been possible to increase the various fees ONLY FOR THE PARKING SCOFFLAWS? I don't see why not. But that doesn't appear to be what happened.

Not all the council members wanted to rake the Poughkeepsie public over the coals, however. Mary Solomon (D-Ward 6) and Gwen Johnson (D-Ward 7) both thought the proposed fees were too high. I can't help but note another article from the same region of New York which talks about how the economic downturn has become a windfall...for the repo man.

One commentator on the article going by the handle "hydeparkny" wrote: Of course the (Poughkeepsie) Journal doesn't tell us *where* these parking violations occur. My guess is many of them are "alternate side" violations. Enforcement of "alternate side" is nothing but a revenue grab because the city doesn't actually clean or plow the streets to the curb, which is the whole point of the alternate side scheme."

Meanwhile, staff at the office of the City Administrator are GOING CRAZY trying to figure out how to increase more fees because of the projected budget shortfall. Prepare to kiss your hard-earned money goodbye, citizens of Poughkeepsie.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

St. Louis Towing Controversy Reveals A "Civil War Relic" Of A Law photo

Abusive and predatory towing is a subject fraught with emotion, and when a public scandal involving the topic happens--look out! The conflict and controversy might spill over into other areas of politics which seem almost unrelated.

This was the case in St. Louis, where the chief of police has already resigned in a big, tangled mess involving vehicles seized, towed, and ultimately sold...some of which the police chief's daughter got at below-wholesale prices...

Now, according to this article, the scandal has exposed the pitfalls of an archaic law dating back to the Civil War era, which basically gives the local Board of Aldermen very little power over the appointment of a city police chief. Instead, the police chief answers to a board of commissioners who are appointed mostly by the state's governor. (The city mayor is automatically a member of the board, as well)

Under this arrangement, the police chief isn't even required to show up for an investigative hearing if the Board of Aldermen decided to have one. (Which seems quite an unlikely prospect)

Why such an unusual arrangement? The answer, according to reporter Jake Wagman, is something I find quite fascinating. Just before the Civil War, secessionists in the legislature took over the reins on the St. Louis chief of police to keep Union supporters in St. Louis from getting access to the armory.

Further, according to Wagman, there is only one board like this anywhere else in the country. It's in Kansas City, Missouri. (Yes, I find it maddening there is a place called Kansas City in MISSOURI. Any American schoolchild who studies our nation's geography probably feels the same way, at least once. The existence of Kansas City, MISSOURI is an abomination, but changing the name would be worse than the current situation)

So apparently there have been moves to reform the old law, and put control back in local hands, but between the fact the locals haven't always made themselves look very good (Wagman mentions the struggling school system and controversies in the fire department) and the fact it gives the governor a lot of power--and what politician wants to give THAT up?--things have not changed since, good grief, ABRAHAM LINCOLN was in office.

Though Chief Mokwa wasn't all bad--the article talks about his many strengths, including responsiveness to cleaning up "drug corners," something I'd love to see happen in my own area of North Minneapolis--the rules governing who can become Chief of Police in St. Louis require an appointment from within the department.

And that's unfortunate, because as any student of public policy can tell you (and I count myself among them) a rather standard move in these cases is to appoint a politically-untainted outsider to clean things up in the troubled department and thus reassure the public that reform really will happen. (Wagman mentions the cities of Miami and Los Angeles as places which have used this tactic)

So now we have a St. Louis police department which is (as the article) puts it "under [a] cloud of controversy" due to the towing scandal, and yet due to the "Civil War relic" appointment system, the only possible replacement must come from high-ranking officers who served under former Chief Mokwa.

What a mess.

Meanwhile, can citizens in St. Louis get their towed vehicles back any faster? Are there any attempts to reform the predatory and abusive practices which creep into non-consent towing when graft and corruption have contaminated the system?

No. Obviously not. The "Civil War relic" is a fascinating foray into obscure legalisms--a well done article, bravo--but what about the ordinary citizens of St. Louis, and how they are being treated when their vehicles get towed?

More On The So-Called "Pilfered Lobster" Towing Incident In Massachusetts photo

First, and most importantly, finding another picture of a pretty girl with a lobster was no easy task...

...but I muddled through, somehow.

Reporter Jerry Russell was kind enough to email me and provide more information about the fate of the lobsters at the controversial towing incident described in my previous post. Russell mentioned "several previous articles," but unfortunately their newspaper engages in the vexing practice of "archiving" articles after 14 days and expecting people to pay money for copies. So I was only able to locate a bit of information--something about a restaurant being fined for having some of the salvaged lobster.

As far as my inability to pull up these old articles without paying money, it's clearly not Russell's fault, but this is one reason why the blogosphere is growing every day while more and more "dead tree based" publications are going under. The Star Tribune engages in a similar practice and I simply won't use their links, though I often wish I could.

In any case, here is what Russell told me:

"As to the question of the fate of the lobsters, some were allegedly sold to area restaurants. Some restaurants have returned them. [The] tow company operator alleged a "free-for-all" at the scene and accused rescue personnel of taking lobsters from the scene. A small number of lobsters were seized by state EPOs the day following the crash. They were released in Boston Harbor."

To this I say...released? These were LIVE lobsters? Then why was the cargo ordered destroyed because it wasn't refrigerated? How does LIVE SEAFOOD manage to SPOIL?

This only solidifies my opinion. Salvaging the cargo instead of destroying it was the morally right thing to do. Actually SELLING SOME OF THE CARGO TO A RESTAURANT crosses a line, and it's regrettable and shady, but were some of those lobsters simply given away to grateful folks? I have a strong feeling that happened.

The earth's resources--particularly living creatures--should not be lavishly wasted. This is one time I'm not going to--ha ha--CARP on the towing operator just because a bit of SEAFOOD was salvaged.

Next time, though...NEXT TIME it would be best to pay heed to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donations Act, and act accordingly, by giving the food to a charity. Imagine what a day that would have been at the soup kitchen when all the live lobster showed up!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

So-Called "Pilfered Lobster" Towing Incident In Massachusetts photo

So, obviously, this blog cries out against abusive and predatory towing. That's my primary concern. But every now and then, in the interest of justice, it's necessary to change course...and actually COME TO THE DEFENSE of a towing operator caught up in the middle of a controversy...

And this is one of those times.

The story is simple. A tractor-trailer wreck in Massachusetts caused a bunch of lobster to lack refrigeration for a period of time, and a health inspector ordered the lobster destroyed. Yeah, right. Throw away LOBSTER because it's been out of the fridge a little too long.

Ha ha. That's a good one.

The towing operator responsible for hauling away the damaged truck did the environment, society and the company responsible for the sort of spoiled cargo a huge favor by taking the lobster off their hands. What happened to it after that? Hard to tell. This article doesn't reveal the fate of the lobster, which were of course doomed anyway, so better for them to be eaten rather than go to waste. I don't care if he gave it to his friends, his family, HIMSELF. He saved the earth's resources from going to waste.

For the record, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donations Act may have something to say about this incident--or a liberal interpretation of the spirit of this law may be relevant. If some of that lobster went to hungry people--and I really suspect it did--then what did it matter as long as nobody got sick? Dinged, damaged and expired food can be donated under this act to, for example, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Even if the food was spoiled, as long as there was no gross negligence in its donation, there is no liability for making the donation.

I've advocated in the past for an expansion of this law to include a "Munificent Manger" provision allowing expired and/or damaged or second rate food to be donated to employees. Well, heck, I've also advocated for more publicity to let people know the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act even EXISTS.

Get off this towing operator's back. He did a good thing.

Towed Car Misplaced 4 Days In Alpharetta, Georgia (A Sub-Blogosphere Horror Story) photo

Haven't heard of the sub-blogosphere? Google the word. The sub-blogosphere exists, and that's how I learned about this incident in Forsyth County, Georgia, where life moves at a slower pace and it takes FOUR DAYS for a woman to locate her towed vehicle...

It's my understanding the sub-blogosphere is that area of the blogosphere which is less creditable than regular blogs. Anonymous comment threads linked to blog entries, for example, purporting to provide further information about an incident. THAT would be the sub-blogosphere.

A lot of predatory towing horror stories can be found in the sub-blogosphere. I sort of came upon this one, and then I found the lovely picture of an abandoned barn near Alpharetta. This area of Georgia is off the beaten path, and yet predatory and abusive towing anywhere needs to be exposed.

So here is what happened. A woman named Angie Bradley was pulled over by the Forsyth County Sheriff's Department. The officer noticed a pink 2007 license decal and ran the plate, which said the registration was active but had "no valid insurance." The woman didn't have a current and valid insurance card but she states--emphatically--she had receipts with her proving she made insurance payments since January of 2008.

Instead of showing a little discretion--either letting the woman go entirely or citing her and letting her cough up the proof of insurance to the court system--the officer had the vehicle towed. The woman--who had a passenger and her 8-year-old son in the car--was moving to the area from Gainesville, Florida. She had a lot of her possessions in the car.

The officer made the 8-year-old get in the back of the squad car, which made the kid hysterical. The officer wouldn't let the mother console her kid and made her go back to her vehicle, making the situation worse. The officers proceeded to dump out the woman's purse and search the car without finding anything. Angie Bradley has no criminal record and has never even had a speeding ticket.

But this is Forsyth County, Georgia, and that's how it goes down in Forsyth, apparently.

The policeman announced the car was going to be towed and gave Angie Bradley a card for Coy's Towing Service and asked if she had someone who could come get her. Since Bradley had just moved, she knew nobody in the area, "let alone somebody who would be awake at midnight" (and come to get her).

When she asked the officer if he would transport her, he snapped "I'm not a taxi service." (Do they even HAVE one of those in Forsyth County, Georgia?)

Fortunately, there were two cops--the bad one and the good one, of course--and the good one offered a ride. The woman thought her nightmare was over, until she started trying to locate her car. Suffice to day, it took FOUR DAYS TO LOCATE THE CAR, resulting in a fee of $250 instead of $150.

Angie Bradley told her story in a small corner of the blogosphre, so the story would be out there about how citizens are treated in Forsyth County, Georgia. I decided it was time to rocket out of the sub-blogosphere and into the actual blogosphere, so I have put the story here.

Watch out in Forsyth County, Georgia. As Angie Bradly put it, if not for the decency of the OTHER policeman, "We would have been left on the side of the road. I truly believe that."

On a minor note: I submitted "sub-blogosphere" to Urban Dictionary Dot Com.

Old Fashioned Grassroots Activism Led To "Abusive Towing Uprising" (Post Number Two)

The Abbey Court Abusive Towing Uprising
Anonymous Photographer

This image shows the child who was put into a vehicle at Abbey Court, in Carrboro, North Carolina, to keep the vehicle from getting towed.

Desperate people do desperate things. The child was unharmed. It is the predatory and abusive towing which led to this worrisome incident and yet more incidents which continue to be documented by local media as well as the tenant website...

* Check out the "owner Ken Lucas" section of the website, including his jowly mug shot and a bird-eye view of his multi-million dollar mansion. Was there ever such a perfect landlord villain?

* A man was injured in a booting incident according to this local blog. He sounds lucky to be alive.

* The same day, police went to speak to Abbey Court management about a car getting towed over a cracked windshield. According to the same local blog, management couldn't give an explanation about why there wasn't adequate documentation of the vehicle's condition.

Since the police answer to the Mayor, and the Mayor is opposing Abbey Court on their rampant towing, the apartment managers find themselves in the odd position of being treated like suspects. Usually when it comes to management versus tenants, cops take the side of the property owners. (At least in my experience managing rental property)

Not this time, however.

Old Fashioned Grassroots Activism Led To "Abusive Towing Uprising" (Post Number One)

The Abbey Court Abusive Towing Uprising,
Anonymous Photographer

The uprising in Carrboro, North Carolina against towing abuses at Abbey Court didn't just spring up spontaneously. It turns out there has been a long campaign to organize the tenants, and fighting towing abuses is only part of the struggle...

Some of the organized tenants have their own website, click here for a link. I emailed one of the organizers, and he seemed pretty cool about sharing the photos on the site.

The photo in this post shows tenants gathered to fight abusive towing. It was this gathering which led to intervention by the mayor and a movement for reform.

It doesn't look very glamorous, does it. It looks gritty, hard, and a bit depressing...and yet there is hope, because people are organized and fighting back.

One suspects revolutions are only glamorous in the retelling.