Logosm.gif (1927 bytes)
navlinks.gif (4688 bytes)
Hruler04.gif (5511 bytes)

Back to Inspector General’s main page

Inspector General
Report of Investigation Concerning a Review of the District of Columbia Towing Regulations and Its Enforcement
OIG No. 99-0318(S)
March 30, 2001




Dorothy Brizill
Bonnie Cain
Jim Dougherty
Gary Imhoff
Phil Mendelson
Mark David Richards
Sandra Seegars


DCWatch Archives
Council Period 12
Council Period 13
Council Period 14

Election 1998
Election 2000
Election 2002

Election 2004
Election 2006

Government and People
Anacostia Waterfront Corporation
Boards and Com
Campaign Finance
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Management Officer
City Council
Control Board
Corporation Counsel
DC Agenda
Elections and Ethics
Fire Department
FOI Officers
Inspector General
Housing and Community Dev.
Human Services
Mayor's Office
Mental Health
Motor Vehicles
Neighborhood Action
National Capital Revitalization Corp.
Planning and Econ. Dev.
Planning, Office of
Police Department
Property Management
Public Advocate
Public Libraries
Public Schools
Public Service Commission
Public Works
Regional Mobility Panel
Sports and Entertainment Com.
Taxi Commission
Telephone Directory
University of DC
Water and Sewer Administration
Youth Rehabilitation Services
Zoning Commission

Issues in DC Politics

Budget issues
DC Flag
DC General, PBC
Gun issues
Health issues
Housing initiatives
Mayor’s mansion
Public Benefit Corporation
Regional Mobility
Reservation 13
Tax Rev Comm
Term limits repeal
Voting rights, statehood
Williams’s Fundraising Scandals


Appleseed Center
Cardozo Shaw Neigh.Assoc.
Committee of 100
Fed of Citizens Assocs
League of Women Voters
Parents United
Shaw Coalition



What Is DCWatch?

themail archives

A censored edition of the following report is also available on the Inspector General’s own web site, http://www.dcig.org


OIG NO. 99-0318(S)

March 30, 2001



Information regarding the District of Columbia towing industry was received by the District of Columbia Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in regard to: (1) Police Officers from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) appearing to work for the tow companies; (2) tow companies holding vehicles without notifying the owners as a means to increase the storage bill; and (3) vehicles being towed from private property without a request from the property owners.

Based on this information, the OIG reviewed:

  • Whether MPD Officers adhere to procedures set forth by MPD General Orders regarding tow crane operations and enforcement.
  • Whether the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) investigates and enforces violations of District tow regulations.
  • Whether Chapter 4 of Title 16, District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR), Towing Services for Motor Vehicles, adequately addresses the rights of vehicle owners.


The DCMR is the official code of permanent rules and statements of general applicability and legal effect promulgated by Executive departments and agencies and by independent entities of the Government of the District of Columbia. Title 16, Consumers, Commercial Practices & Civil Infractions, effective August 21, 1956 and amended in 1987, consists of 30 Chapters (Exhibit A). Towing Service for Motor Vehicles is covered in Chapter 4. There are approximately 56 tow companies licensed in the District, with approximately 186 registered cranes (Exhibit B). Towing operations in the District are divided into four main categories: (1) request by vehicle owner, (2) tows from private property, (3) tows requested by MPD, and (4) tows by the Department of Public Works (DPW). DCRA, by statute, through the Office of Consumer Protection, is responsible for enforcing tow violations, § 4 (b)(1) of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, codified at D.C. Code § 28-3903 (b)(1)(1981).

At the time of the OIG review, MPD Fleet Division had five cranes and contracted private towing companies to provide towing and storage services when departmental tow cranes are unavailable. MPD cranes or contract tow companies are requested through the MPD Communications Division. Tow contractors are responsible for providing tow services within the geographic confines of the specific police district in which they are listed. Contractors are placed on the MPD tow list based on their location within the confines of the District. One stipulation to be on the MPD list, is the requirement that the contractor respond within a 30-minute period. The assigned districts are not interchangeable.

The Parking Services Administration (PSA), DPW, is responsible for towing and parking enforcement of vehicles in violation of the city parking ordinance. PSA has two divisions, the Abandoned & Junk Vehicle Division (AJVD) and the Parking Enforcement Division.

As an integral part of this investigation; a review was conducted of MPD General Order 303.3, Tow Crane Operation and Enforcement; Special Order 97.28, Contract Towing Services for Recovered Stolen Vehicles, Impoundments, and Emergency Relocation; General Order 201.17, Outside Employment and Financial Statements, and Chapter 4 of Title 16 DCMR.

Issue One: Whether MPD Officers adhere to procedures set forth by MPD General Orders regarding tow crane operations and enforcement.

Metropolitan Police Department General Order 303.3, provides, in pertinent part, at C. Impoundments on Private Property (Exhibit C):

  1. Members receiving complaints of vehicles illegally parked on private property shall issue an appropriately completed NOI [Notice of Infraction], if the property owner or manager is willing to cooperate in the prosecution of the case.
  2. Members shall have said vehicles removed from private property only if the property owner or manager so requests, and signs the back of copy. A of the NOI and the back of the tow crane receipt.
The OIG received several complaints relating to tows from private property. One complainant stated that a neighbor's vehicle, parked on the complainant's property with permission, was issued a NOI by a MPD Officer. The neighbor was cited for parking in an alley and a private tow company towed the vehicle. Investigators checked the parking space on the complainant's property where the vehicle had been parked. If the vehicle was parked in the space as indicated by the complainant, the vehicle was clearly not in the alley. In addition, the officer never contacted the owner of the property prior to ordering the vehicle towed.

A second allegation indicated that an officer in plain clothes issued a NOI for a vehicle parked in a private parking lot. The vehicle owner arrived as the vehicle was being hitched to the tow crane and was required to pay $150 to have the vehicle released. When the vehicle owner tried to speak with the officer who was present, the officer turned away and would not answer the owner's questions. The property owner was not present and did not sign the NOI.

For many tow companies, private property tows generate a large amount of revenue. In order to expedite tows, tow companies have generated a "tow contract" with private apartment complexes making the tow crane operator a representative of the property owner (Exhibit D). Tow crane operators contact MPD Officers who issue NOIs for vehicles parked on the private property. We have documented instances based on complaint reports and interviews of MPD Detectives and a tow crane owner in which; (1) Officers are shown the contract and advised by the tow operator that they represent the owner; and (2) Officers did not question the legality of the contract and issued 'the NOIs. The property owner is often unaware of which vehicles have been towed from their property and are seldom present to sign the NOIs and the tow receipts.

Surveillance has identified vehicles being towed from a McDonald's Restaurant parking lot in the District that had signs posted announcing that "all non-patron vehicles will be towed." A tow company owner was observed on the lot making a call on a cell phone. Shortly after the call, a MPD Officer, outside of his assigned area, arrived and was told by the tow company owner what vehicles were to be issued NOIs. Three tow cranes were observed parked along a nearby side street. Soon after the officer placed the NOIs on the vehicles and left the area, the tow trucks arrived and towed five vehicles. The manager of the property never signed the NOIs. Two owners of the towed vehicles were observed exiting the McDonalds. One of the vehicle owners stopped the tow crane before it left the area. In this incident and during subsequent observations, the officers did not speak directly with the property owners but responded to the tow crane operators directions.

MPD General Order 201.17(B)(2)(a), Outside Employment and Financial Statements, Prohibitions for Outside Employment, provides, in pertinent part;

The following types of outside employment are prohibited in any jurisdiction: (a) Employment for any business or in any capacity over which the Metropolitan Police Department exercises a special supervisory, regulatory, or enforcement function.
Additionally, the District of Columbia Government Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act of 1978, effective March 3, 1979 (D.C. Law 2-139; D.C. Code § 1-619:?), provides that:

No employee of the District government shall engage in outside employment or private business activity or have any direct or indirect financial interest that conflicts or would appear to conflict with the fair, impartial, and objective performance of officially assigned duties and responsibilities.

Many MPD Officers work off-duty, in uniform, as security for District apartment complexes. As part of the security detail, officers enforce unauthorized parking in the parking lots of apartment complexes. While performing these duties, Officers issue NOIs for parking violations, and then these vehicles are towed by private tow companies. According to MPD Detectives, Internal Affairs addressed this issue in 1998 and concluded that officers working off-duty, issuing NOls for parking violations, assisted on-duty patrol officers, thereby allowing them to respond to other calls for service. However, this practice violates General Order 201.17(B), and gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.

We have identified police officers and MPD crane operators who own or are linked to District tow companies. According to a DCRA Investigator responsible for investigating tow crane violations, one of the MPD Officers was associated with a tow company recently cited for tow violations. Before a fine was levied against the company, the company closed. The MPD Officer associated with this company resigned from the police force and started his own company using the same storage space as the previous company. The DCRA Investigator stated that he had received reports from other crane operators that this MPD Officer was seen driving the tow crane while in his police uniform. The Investigator stated that he notified MPD on this matter; however, no action was taken. The same officer had worked security for a private apartment complex. Reviews of the MPD Teletype tow log revealed that many of the tows ordered by this Officer came from the apartment complex where he worked off-duty, and were towed by the tow company he was associated with.

A second officer owned a tow company listed under the name of a family member. According to MPD Internal Affairs, and the DCRA Investigator, this officer was denied a tow crane license due to a conflict of interest. On June 1995, the officer signed over all rights to his company to his daughter. In October 1996, a hearing was held that determined that the daughter was not acting as a front for the officer and a tow license was issued (Exhibit E).

In June 1998, the business agent for the Metropolitan/Washington Towing Association contacted the OIG and reported that a MPD crane operator, who worked in the MPD Fleet Management building, was in the process of renewing his license for his own tow company. The business agent stated that he has heard that this employee, in the past, allegedly towed vehicles while on duty, and parked the vehicles along a roadside to be towed later by his own tow crane which he drove to and from work. OIG Investigators have observed a private tow crane which was registered to this employee parked near the MPD Fleet Management building during business hours. The DCRA Investigator advised that he received similar allegations and spoke with a member of the Office of the Corporation Counsel (OCC) regarding a possible conflict of interest. The DCRA Investigator stated that OCC found no regulations that prohibited MPD civilian employees from owning a tow business and the tow crane operator was issued a new tow license.

As a sub-issue, MPD Officers are not always enforcing tow regulations as required in MPD General Order 303.3(F).

Pursuant to MPD General Orders, where it appears to the Officer that any of the tow crane regulations have been violated, the officer shall prepare a PD Form 251 (Event Report) stating all the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident, and cite the tow crane operator(s) with an appropriate NOI for violating the regulations. A copy of the PD Form 251 is required to be forwarded to DCRA for investigation. The DCRA Investigator stated that DCRA has seldom received a PD Form 251, even when the investigator is aware of a violation where officers were present.

The Investigator for DCRA advised that DCRA has received numerous complaints from tow crane operators regarding MPD Officers not following procedures for vehicle removal at the scene of traffic accidents. According to the Investigator, at an accident scene, MPD Officers radio the dispatcher for a tow crane and are provided with the name of the responding company. MPD dispatch assigns the tow cranes based on a rotating list. However, based on information received by the tow crane operators, some officers permit unauthorized tow companies to respond and tow vehicles. DCRA received approximately 15 complaints from tow crane operators between January 2000, to November 2000, regarding unauthorized tow cranes taking vehicles from accident scenes in which they were called to service. When tow cranes respond to an accident scene without being dispatched, officers on the scene should investigate how the tow crane became aware of the accident.

16 DCMR §§ 408.9 and 408.10, provide, in pertinent part;

It shall be unlawful for any person conducting a tow truck business . . . to install or maintain in a tow truck . . . a radio receiver capable of being tuned to the MPD radio frequencies. Id. at § 408.9.

It shall be unlawful for any tow truck worker to stop at the scene of any accident and furnish any towing service, unless he or she has been called to the scene by the owner or operator of a disabled vehicle or by a member of MPD pursuant to Department procedures. Id. at § 408.10.

Additionally, the DCRA Investigator stated that many MPD Officers call the tow companies directly, often resulting in no record of the tow in MPD Teletype. MPD Detectives concur, stating that officers maybe calling the tow company directly to expedite the tow. Officers who directly call for a tow company to respond are in violation of 16 DCMR § 408.5, which provides:

It shall be unlawful for any employee of the Government of the District of Columbia to solicit the employment of any person conducting a tow truck business; or to volunteer the name of any tow truck business to the owner or operator of a disabled vehicle.

Regarding MPD Officers' responsibilities when a stolen vehicle is recovered, MPD Special Order 97-28(D), provides, in pertinent part:

Members recovering stolen vehicles shall:

  1. Attempt to notify the owner through the radio dispatcher [and] . . . request . . . [the owner to]:
    1. respond to, the scene and take possession of the vehicle, OR 
    2. arrange to have a licensed tow crane of the owner's choice respond and recover the vehicle.
  2. Contact the radio dispatcher and request the services of the appropriate towing contractor when all efforts to secure the release of the vehicle from the field have been exhausted.

This Special Order continues to outline specific steps officers should take regarding the towing of recovered stolen vehicles (Exhibit F).

Law Enforcement Officers from the Stolen Vehicle Units of surrounding jurisdictions meet monthly to share investigative information. OIG Investigators attended the meeting where many of the Detectives complained that they were having problems with MPD Officers failing to clear recovered stolen vehicles. According to MPD Special Order 9728(D)(5), when a stolen vehicle is recovered, the recovering officer must complete a PD Form 81, (Property Record), and enter the recovery in the "Property Book" prior to the completion of the recovering member's tour of duty. WD Teletype is then notified to cancel the stolen vehicle report and enter the vehicle as being recovered. The Detectives explained that when a stolen vehicle is located in a District tow lot, MPD Officers fail to complete the necessary paperwork to clear the vehicles, making it possible for the vehicles to be released. A random check of the MPD Teletype tow log revealed that many vehicles towed by private tow companies are listed as stolen vehicles. Contract tow companies tow stolen vehicles and the owners are charged the full rate for towing and storage. As a result of officers failing to notify vehicle owners, owners have often gone months without a vehicle and are later faced with a large tow and storage expense.

Issue Two: Whether the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) investigates and enforces violations of District tow regulations.

DCRA has one investigator responsible for overseeing 56 private tow companies within the District. The investigator receives complaints from citizens as well as tow crane operators. According to the investigator, many complaints are not investigated due to a lack of staff. The investigator stated that the main complaint from citizens is over charging, while tow crane operators complain that MPD Officers are not available when they need NOIs issued for vehicles they need to tow.

Prior to issuing a license to operate, the investigator for DCRA must inspect all tow cranes and business locations. Licenses are renewed each year; however, the DCRA Investigator advised that no re-inspections are conducted. The investigator was aware that after the original inspection, the addresses submitted as the business address are not always actually used as a working business. The MPD rotating list is based on the DCRA addresses on record for each tow company. Having more than one address in different sections of the District increases the likelihood of the same companies being called by MPD (Exhibit G). The DCRA Investigator admitted that he did not inspect business locations "as he should," knowing that businesses often use fraudulent addresses.

The following is typical of violations noted. In July 1998, a District tow company was operating with an expired tow license. 'From May 31, 1998, to July 1998, the tow company towed 162 vehicles. DCRA was informed by OIG Investigators and issued a "Notice to Discontinue Unlicensed Business Activity" on August 13, 1998. When DCRA issued this discontinuance notice, with OIG Investigators present, the owner of the company questioned the DCRA Investigator as to why he was issuing the notice when he had prior knowledge of the expired license and took no earlier action. The owner was later fined $7,500.

In March 1998, OIG Investigators received information that a District tow company may be towing vehicles without written orders or NOIs. OIG Investigators advised DCRA of the allegation; however no investigation was conducted. In March 1999, the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD), GEICO Insurance Company, and Allstate Insurance Company received complaints about the same company regarding the illegal towing and impounding of reported stolen vehicles. Representatives from the insurance companies, MPD Detectives, MTPD and DCRA surveyed the tow lot and found ten reported stolen vehicles. The owner of the company could not produce proper documents for any of the ten vehicles, and MPD Teletype had no record of the vehicles being towed. The DCRA Investigator submitted a report to the DCRA Enforcement Division in December 1999.

On May 30, 2000, DCRA issued a notice of intent to suspend the company's tow license. A hearing was scheduled for September 12, 2000. Prior to the hearing, the owner of the company voluntarily discontinued business, citing that he could not afford the 90-day suspension or any fine that may be levied against the company. DCRA took no further action and the company was never fined.

In another incident, Prince George's County Police Department (PGCPD) discovered 23 stolen vehicles located in a parking lot of an Auto Body Shop in October 1999. A District tow company towed 13 vehicles from the District and parked them in Prince George's County. Charges were brought against the tow company for mechanic's lien violations and vehicle theft. None of the vehicle owners had been notified and the tow company was in the process of placing a mechanic's lien against the vehicles to claim ownership. Detectives for PGCPD stated that the DCRA Investigator testified at the civil hearing on behalf of the tow company, and expressed concerns as to why the DCRA Investigator was called to testify, stating that there appeared to be a conflict of interest.

The tow company lost the civil hearing and has appealed the finding. When questioned, the DC RA Investigator stated that he testified in response to a subpoena he received from the tow company's attorneys.

Issue Three: Whether Chapter 4 of Title 16, District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR), Towing Services for Motor Vehicles, adequately addresses the rights of the vehicle owners.

A review of Chapter 4 of Title 16, DCMR, revealed much of the phrasing to be nebulous, such as the meaning of "trustworthiness" of the applicant, a proportionally reasonable schedule of minimum and maximum fees, and the requirement of storage or repair facilities. OIG Investigators reviewed tow crane regulations from local jurisdictions, in conjunction with the States of Florida arid Massachusetts, in order to combine the "best practices" for each subject addressed in the regulations. See these attached tow regulations (Exhibit H).

Many complaints received by the OIG and the DCRA Investigator related to vehicle owners being notified of storage charges, which were excessive. In 1998, after the OIG Investigators received a similar complaint, the tow company owner was questioned about the storage charges. He responded by saying that it was not the tow company's responsibility to notify vehicle owners. 18 DCMR § 2421.2 states:

It shall be the duty of the Police Department or the Department of Public Works to inform as soon as practicable the owner or other persons in charge of an impounded vehicle or claiming the same, of the nature and circumstances of the traffic violation provided for in this subtitle, and for which, or on account of which, the vehicle was impounded.

Additionally, D.C. Code § 40-812 (b) states that with respect to any vehicle on private property subject to impoundment, the private property owner must make reasonable efforts to give notice to the owner or operator of the vehicle in violation.

This investigation revealed that MPD was not notifying vehicle owners in all cases, and that private property owners are often unaware of what vehicle has been towed from their property. Tow company owners frequently contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau to receive information on the last registered vehicle owner, while owners of private property do not have access to this information.

The AJVD, DPW, under D.C. Code § 40-812.1(a), must notify owners by certified mail within five working days after an abandoned or junk vehicle has been taken into custody. Within ten days of taking the vehicle, AJVD must publish a list of towed vehicles in a District newspaper of general circulation, once a week for two consecutive weeks, describing the vehicle and location of the facility where the vehicle was towed. Id. at §40-812.1(b). However, private tow companies are not required to notify owners.

Notification is dependent on the inputting of correct information at MPD Teletype. The process of documenting tows at MPD was antiquated and not functional. For example, tow crane operators are required to call Teletype to give the license number and vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the vehicle being towed. Teletype operators write the information into a log, which is later entered into the computer (Exhibit I). The database was old and would only accept 15 digits of the 17digit VIN. OIG Investigators randomly checked a series of license numbers and VINs against actual tow receipts. More than half of the numbers were either entered incorrectly or not entered at all. However, when vehicle owners contact Teletype to find out if their vehicle was towed, they are told that there is no record of their vehicle. The owners often report the vehicle as stolen and many times never find the vehicle.

On August 12, 1999, a District resident's vehicle was towed and the owner did not find the vehicle until March 16, 2000. The vehicle owner contacted all the appropriate agencies, MPD, MPD Teletype, and personally went to DPW and the Brentwood Impound Lot. There were no records of his vehicle being towed or logged into the District Impound Lot. On October 14, 1999, the vehicle owner received a warning that he failed to pay the parking ticket that was issued to his vehicle on the day it was missing; therefore, the vehicle owner checked back with MPD Teletype and Brentwood Impound Lot, still finding no record of his vehicle. However, on March 16, 2000, the vehicle was found in the Brentwood Impound Lot.

In November 2000, the owner of a stolen vehicle advised MPD Detectives that when she was notified that her vehicle had been recovered, she went to the tow company to retrieve her vehicle. Once at the tow company she discovered that her vehicle had already been sent to salvage and destroyed.


In reviewing the present tow regulations and procedures for the District cranes and private tow company's, the OIG found a lack of control measures to prevent vehicles from being misplaced and the resulting inconvenience to District residents. The OIG found that:

  • Procedures, set forth in MPD General Order 303.3, are not always followed by MPD Officers.
  • MPD officers, working outside employment as security for private apartment complexes, issue NOIs for parking violations. This activity is contrary to General Order 201.17(B). This activity also gives the appearance of a conflict of interest, which is a violation of the District of Columbia Government Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act of 1978.
  • Violations of 16 DCMR §§ 408.9 and 408.10 occur when unauthorized tow companies arrive at accident scenes, and MPD Officers do not always cite those responsible for the violation.
  • Significant deficiencies exist in the manner that DCRA investigates and enforces tow violations.
  • Chapter 4 of Title 16 DCMR is poorly worded, easily misinterpreted, and does not adequately address the rights of vehicle owners.


Based on the results of this review, the Inspector General recommends:

  • Chapter 4 of Title 16 DCMR be reviewed and appropriate changes made to address the findings in this investigation, using Exhibit H as a guide.
  • That MPD Officers are held accountable for failure to adhere to MPD General Orders.
  • That a policy prohibiting MPD employees from having an ownership interest in a private tow business, along with off-duty police officers working for private apartment complexes as parking enforcement, be considered.
  • That the District evaluate the need to have private tow companies tow and store recovered stolen vehicles, thereby profiting from a violation of the law.
  • That DCRA conduct unannounced, quarterly inspections of all District tow companies, on a rotating basis, and keep a log of all inspections and findings.
  • That DCRA assign an appropriate number of investigators commensurate with the volume of business in the District.
  • That due to incidents which give rise to the question of a conflict of interest, the DCRA Investigator presently responsible for the oversight of tow crane violations be reassigned other duties within the department.
  • That DCRA Enforcement Division investigate reported violations in a timely manner. 
  • That a pamphlet outlining customers' rights is created and made available for the public. Tow companies should be required to give this pamphlet to customers prior to consent tows and attach it to the tow receipt for non-consent tows (pamphlet example: Exhibit J). 
  • That private tow companies adhere to the notification policy as now required of the Abandon and Junk Vehicle Division. Additionally, private tow companies should be required to bi-weekly fax a list of towed vehicles to MPD Auto Theft Unit, and forward hard copies monthly.
  • That a policy is established to set maximum rates for "non-consent" tows and guidelines for reasonable rates for consent tows. 
  • That equipment in the MPD Teletype Division is upgraded and MPD goes online with the National Impound Program (Exhibit K).


A. DCMR Title 16, Chapter 4: Towing Service For Motor Vehicles.
B. District Tow Business list.
C. Metropolitan Police Department General Order 303.3: Tow Crane Operation and Enforcement.
D. Sample of the tow contract used by private tow companies.
E. Government of the District of Columbia, Board of Appeals and Review Docket No. 965182-LR.
F. Metropolitan Police Department Special Order 97-28; Contract Towing Services for Recovered Stolen Vehicles, Impoundments, and Emergency Relocation.
G. Metropolitan Police Department Tow Contract List. .
H. Recommended changes for Chapter 4 of Title 16 DCMR.
I. Metropolitan Police Department Teletype Division Tow Log.
J. Sample of a Customer Rights pamphlet used in West Palm Beach, Florida.
K. National Impound Program Information.

Report Approved by:

David M. Bowie
Assistant Inspector General for Investigations

Charles C. Maddox, Esq.
Inspector General

Date of Approval: 3/30/2001

Back to top of page

Send mail with questions or comments to webmaster@dcwatch.com
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)