It could cost drivers a lot more when they get their cars towed after Modesto police officers cite them on suspicion of DUI, driving on a suspended license and other driving-related offenses.
Drivers now pay a $160 administrative fee at the Police Department to get their vehicles back. The towing companies charge drivers $215 for the tow and $39 a day for storing the car. But some of those amounts would go up under a proposal a Modesto City Council committee will hear Monday. The proposal is for a three-year contract between the city and the towing companies that would replace the current one that ends in April.
The Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee meeting is open to the public. The committee will not make the final decision on the proposed contract but could recommend the full council approve it.
Several towing companies don’t like other changes in the proposal, which include putting the responsibility of collecting the city fee and determining whether a vehicle can be released on them. Police Lt. Aaron Tait said Modesto is working with the companies to address their concerns.
But first the higher costs to drivers. The proposal calls for drivers to pay a variable administrative fee, from $160 for being an unlicensed driver or letting the registration expire to $250 for driving on a suspended license and $450 for a DUI. The cost of a tow rises to $220, but storage jumps to $65 a day.
Tait said he understands drivers don’t like paying these costs. But he said the California Vehicle Code allows cities to charge a fee to cover their costs.
He said the fees are based on a 2006 study that has been updated to reflect the department’s current costs. The update shows the Police Department could charge $391 to have a vehicle towed when officers arrest the driver. The breakdown for the fee includes the officer’s time on scene, the time to write a report, time spent by clerical staff, the time for supervisors to review the records and overhead. The breakdown even includes $3.35 for office supplies.
A city report says Modesto has charged $160 since 2006. Tait said Modesto has not charged what it could, in part because of the Great Recession and in part because of the city’s demographics. “We are not an affluent area,” he said. “We don’t want to punish first-time offenders.”
The administrative fees vary among neighboring law enforcement agencies. Stockton charges $188, Oakdale, $110, Turlock, $160; and Manteca, $225.
Tait said the most common reasons Modesto police have a car towed is the driver does not have a license or the license has been suspended. He said the police had about 2,700 cars towed in 2015 and about 2,500 in 2014.
The police have discretion in some cases when deciding whether to have a car towed. They can in some circumstances have a family member take the vehicle or leave it as long as it is legally parked in a safe area. Modesto defense attorney Aaron Villalobos said he is concerned that higher administrative fees could give police an incentive to tow more vehicles. “Their discretion is huge,” he said.
Tait said the proposed contract is expected to increase the annual revenue flowing into the Police Department’s traffic offender fund from about $300,000 to $500,000. But he stressed officers will not be more inclined to have cars towed. “That’s my direction when we roll with this,” he said. “You try every effort to get someone to pick up the vehicle.”
The proposal includes the towing companies using a software program from a company called Dispatching and Tracking Solutions and pay DTS $12 to $25 per vehicle towed, according to a city report. Modesto will not pay DTS anything. But the towing companies will no longer pay the city a $60 administrative fee every time they tow a vehicle at the request of the police. Tait said the DTS program would replace an antiquated 1998 system.
The Modesto Bee contacted the roughly dozen towing companies that contract with Modesto to perform these tows. Nearly all of them said they do not like the proposed contract. One declined to comment and a couple could not be reached for comment.
The new contract calls for a driver to pay everything he owes, including the city administrative fee, to the towing company. The company also determines whether the driver meets the criteria to have the vehicle released to him.
“I think they are placing the responsibility on our shoulders and it should fall on the Police Department’s,” said Mike Reeves, one of the owners of Scenic Towing.
Reeves is concerned about the potential for an ugly exchange between one of his employees and a driver. But Tait said police will train the towing companies on when they can release a vehicle. He said officers will give drivers whose vehicles are towed a piece of paper saying how much it will cost to get their vehicles back.
“We will let them know up front,” he said. “All the anger will be taken out on the front end.”
Anderson’s Towing’s Duane Thompson said the proposal puts the financial burden on the towing companies. For instance, he said, the companies have to pay the administrative release fees even if they do not collect them from the drivers. He estimated only about a third of drivers who have their cars towed retrieve them.
Tait said the towing companies don’t have to tow cars for the police. He added the companies can recoup their costs through what they make by selling vehicles that are not claimed to wrecking yards or to new owners if the cars are in good shape. But Thompson said Tait does not know the towing business. “We’ll sell some cars for $500 or $1,000 but also send a lot of cars to the wrecking yard for $100,” he said.
The committee meets at 5 p.m. in Room 2005 on the second floor of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316