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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
OFFICE OF THE 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
A REVIEW OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA TOWING
REGULATIONS AND ITS ENFORCEMENT
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 §
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):
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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:
- Attempt to notify the owner through the radio dispatcher [and] . . .
request . . . [the owner to]:
- respond to, the scene and take possession of the vehicle, OR
- arrange to have a licensed tow crane of the owner's choice respond and
recover the vehicle.
- 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
Issue Two: Whether the Department of Consumer and Regulatory
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
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
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
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
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
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- That DCRA Enforcement Division investigate reported violations in a
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
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
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
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
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
K. National Impound Program Information.
Report Approved by:
David M. Bowie
Assistant Inspector General for Investigations
Charles C. Maddox, Esq.
Date of Approval: 3/30/2001