Police Holds are Serious BusinessApr 6th, 2012 | By Editorial Staff | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog
I recently wrote an article for Tow Times about impound lot management, and it reminded me of an incident I was involved in when I first starting driving an impound truck back in the 80s. We were on the local municipal towing contract, and occasionally we impounded vehicles that had some kind of special “hold” on them for the police. They might be vehicles being held for evidence, or they might be seized vehicles. Usually they required inside storage in a secure area. We had a three-vehicle garage that we used for inside storage.
On one occasion I towed in a Mazda RX7 with a hold on it and placed it inside storage. It sat in the garage, all locked up, for about a month before the city had us move it to one of their facilities. Nothing special.
About six months later, I had to testify in small claims court because the vehicle owner sued us for missing items. Seems that he had (or claimed he had) a case of champagne in the back of this RX7 when he was pulled over and arrested for some kind of racketeering charge. When he finally got his vehicle back a few months later, the champagne was gone. So he sued us (the towing company) for the cost of the bubbly.
The thing is, I didn’t remember seeing the champagne, or much of anything else in this car. Even way back then when I was young and didn’t have a clue about much of anything except the Red Sox, micro-brews and how to hit a draw, I was very meticulous about itemizing the contents of a vehicle on the tow invoice, and about securing the vehicle in the facility. Some drivers didn’t itemize at all, or would leave vehicles unlocked, or with the windows open. My tow invoices were a work of art. I learned architectural printing from a college roommate, so anyone could read my invoices. I indicated previous vehicle damage on the little schematics of the car with deadly precision. I covered my ass.
However, there was a flaw in my work on this Mazda. I had written on the invoice “No Stereo.” But there was a stereo — before, during and after the tow — a stock AM/FM cassette deck (I told you, this was the 80s). Normally the problem would be if there was a stereo noted, and then it was gone later. In this case, a stereo seemed to have been added while in our possession, which of course it wasn’t, but it cast a shadow of doubt over my capacity for observation.
In the end, the judge ruled that we were not liable. Even if it could be established that the case of champagne was there when we impounded the vehicle, the judge pointed out that the vehicle went into the city storage facility for an extended stay after leaving our possession and before the owner retrieved it, so if someone stole it, it could just as well have been a city employee at that facility. The vehicle owner was dumbfounded. The possibility might have occurred to him, and I had thought of it but didn’t want to point it out. I think the vehicle owner thought that there was no way the judge would suggest it. And you know how it is in small claims: one chance, no appeal.
Me, I don’t think the champagne was ever there. I just wanted to know what the “racketeering” entailed.
The lesson for me: double-check your work. Also: irony loves the spotlight. All those yahoos I worked with who did sloppy work — they never ended up spending the day in small claims court.
Eventually, the city started seizing enough vehicles from prostitution stings, drug busts, etc., that they set up their own storage facility staffed with security personnel 24 hours a day. They called it (and I am not making this up) “Seizure World.” Love that. Sounds like a theme park.
Caretaking for police hold vehicles is serious business. One driver who worked for me later, when I got into managing, towed a vehicle to Seizure World, and while he was there, he decided to take a stroll around, checking out the wrecked vehicles in their inside storage. The city personnel didn’t notice what he was doing until he asked one of them what had happened with one particular vehicle, while he had his faced pressed against the door window, peering inside. The next day I got a call from the district attorney advising us that we might have compromised evidence in a rape prosecution. Like I said, it’s serious business.
Have a safe and profitable week.