Saturday, January 3, 2009

My Stolen Van Ends Up At The Minneapolis Impound Lot (Info About Auto Theft Victims Compensation Fund)

Photo By John Hoff

Because this involved North Minneapolis crime, and happened to me personally, I...

...already blogged about this colorful episode at my other site, The Adventures of Johnny Northside. On that blog I had a bit of cathartic fun discussing the theft of my van, then its quick recovery, then those uncertain moments before retrieval at the impound lot when I didn't know if I was picking up my vehicle in one piece...or a claiming a charred hunk of metal.

The Minneapolis Crime Watch blog took note of my van theft episode, and described my posting as "full of snark," which was a, I think.

But this blog, Towing Utopia Dot Com, is more about systemic reforms, especially the reduction of predatory towing. Yes, I have some fun, but my aim is very public policy-oriented, so I stick close to the nitty-gritty of towing. No need to go into detail about, for example, how it felt to find the rock which had busted my van window STILL IN MY VAN.

Leaving all that aside...and keeping in mind the full, colorful story of the van theft can be found on my other blog, along with a posting about some sensible security precautions I have taken in the wake of this incident, here are my not-overly-harsh, very helpful, policy-oriented critiques of the Minneapolis towing and impound system in light of this golden opportunity to put myself in the shoes of an auto theft victim.

Hey, wait...those are my shoes.

1.) Why was my van towed in the first place?

My vehicle was recovered the next day, a mere 7 blocks away at 2700 Dupont Ave. N.

In driving past this location, I note that anywhere it would have been parked was legal parking. According to the police report, officers simply ran the plate (probably having seen the broken window on the driver's side) and found the vehicle was "hot." So they called for an impound.

Why? Why didn't somebody just call me to retrieve my van? I seriously doubt the CSI folks were taking fingerprints off the steering wheel when I was told this was most likely juveniles on a gang-initiation joy ride.

2.) By what miracle was I informed about the Auto Theft Impound Fund?

The officer who called to tell me about the recovery of my van told me, verbally, about the Auto Theft Impound Fund. So I knew to ask at the impound lot. The clerk at the impound lot had to walk back to a little wooden shelf...she seemed to be sighing at the effort and exertion I was putting her through...and gave me a photocopied flier with some rudimentary information about the Auto Theft Impound Fund, and the steps I needed to take for compensation.

One step was to call Police Records to document the fact I'd made a report about the stolen vehicle. (612-673-2961)

"You don't have a copy of the report here?" I asked, and she looked at me like I must be just a bit soft in the head, to think the report about a stolen van would be in the same place as, well, the stolen van itself.

I had the sense if I hadn't asked about the Auto Theft Impound Fund, I never would have been told. I would have been an auto theft victim, now victimized TWICE: one by car thieves, once by the impound lot.

3.) Show me the money!!!!

I called up the City Attorney's Office for the form to seek compensation for the tow. (612-673-3549) Two things are required: proof I filed a police report, and proof the vehicle had insurance. I have both pieces of documentation ready to go, but I'm still waiting for the form.

Seriously, they have to MAIL it to me? With a STAMP? Made from the flesh of dead trees? Honestly, they can't email it to me as an attachment?

The police department records unit was able to send me my police report in an least the "public portion" of the report, which was perfectly adequate. Why can't they email me this form I need to request compensation? I'd have the thing completed and mailed back by now.

On the bright side: there is a fund to compensate auto theft victims for towing, and somehow the system managed to provide me the information. I have nothing but praise for police officers who can recover a stolen vehicle in 24 hours. It's not like El Paso, Texas, where cars ended up across the river and you'd see the Mexican police driving what used to be your sports car.

4.) What about other jurisdictions?

My van only went seven blocks. Not only did it stay in the same city, but it stayed in the Hawthorne Neighborhood of North Minneapolis, and within the same police precinct. (And it was still towed! Where's the sense in THAT?)

I was told by one of my North Minneapolis neighbors about the time her vehicle was stolen and ended up in Brooklyn Park or Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. (I don't remember which "Brooklyn" it was, and those neighboring cities are two peas in the same civic pod)

TWO OR THREE YEARS LATER she received some kind of notice from an impound lot. By then, insurance had long ago compensated her for the vehicle.

In my case, I had no comp insurance because I tend to drive piece-of-junk vehicles. If my car had ended up in "one of the Brooklyns," or in St. Paul, or if it had been taken on a joyride to some other Minnesota city, most likely it would have been lost in the system. If it had left the state, it surely would have been lost. My past research on this subject tells me jurisdictions just don't share information very well, click here for article.

Which brings me to a kind of resolution: in 2008, I think this blog did a good job raising consciousness about the phenomenon of predatory towing. In fact, use of the phrase "predatory towing" seems to be increasing in the media, especially in all-important newspaper headlines.

However, the issue of "cross-jurisdictional sharing of towing data," one of the issues which first got me excited about doing this blog, apparently isn't sexy enough to be on the media's front burner.

Yes, there are folks like Ron Smith of Compiled Logic who are plugging away, every day, on that particular issue. But the media has yet to get excited about "Dude Where's My Car Syndrome" and write compelling stories about stolen vehicles lost in the system because jurisdictions--even those RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER--don't share information.

Well, in 2009 I have to get the media excited about DWMCS. (Dude Where's My Car Syndome) I have to find ways to highlight the problem of jurisdictions not sharing information about stolen vehicles very well, leading to inefficiency and economic loss.

I'll do it. By golly.

5.) Towing victims everywhere

A trip through the automotive jailhouse is bleak and depressing. There are acres of vehicles, each of these a story of despair and fury, each an economic drain to the owners and, therefore, to our city and state economy. We, as a civilization, can't afford to be this inefficient.

I re-commit myself to this "Towing Utopia" effort because, for one thing, I see results: the media has embraced the term "predatory towing." The next logical step, once you know predatory towing exists, is to ask "how can there be reform?" So just by spreading this single term around, I'm changing the whole culture.

But with a bloggy soap box on which to stand and shout, much greater reforms are possible...and I feel like the frustrating theft of my van was not without some higher purpose.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you'll be alerted to this post, but if you name is Trisha and I'm a reporter at KARE 11. I'd like to hear more about your towing experience. Drop me a line Thanks!