Costly fees to recover a stolen vehicle could be wiped clean under new reforms to police towing operations.
Mayor Mike Duggan said the changes are the latest result of a five-year effort to improve transparency, reduce financial burdens for auto theft victims and clean up corruption in the towing industry. The Detroit Police Department is offering to eliminate towing and storage fees for anyone who lacks auto theft insurance or can’t afford to cover the cost. During a Tuesday press conference, one day after City Council approved contracts with seven companies to collect vehicles on behalf of DPD, Duggan said he and Chief James White are also focused on removing incentives that fostered “troubling practices” like bribery and fraud.
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“I think we have done everything that you would expect us to do to take these incentives out,” Duggan said.
This includes a new software system that automatically assigns towing jobs to companies on a set rotation, which is aimed at preventing officers from playing favorites with their preferred towing company.
“This process takes the individual decision-making out of towing selection,” White said. “If there’s any irregularity with that process, there’s an immediate alert that goes to our tow monitor and our tow auditor. That immediate alert triggers an investigation and we’re able to rectify the problem immediately.”
DPD is also increasing the proportion of weekly towing jobs performed by its own towing unit from 25% to between 35% and 40%. Duggan said the police department created a towing operation so the city wouldn’t be pressured to contract with unethical companies in order to meet the demand for towing.
An extensive federal investigation revealed public officials, police officers and towing industry figures exchanged bribes and favors, resulting in the conviction of former City Council member Andre Spivey and multiple police officers. The federal probe is still ongoing.
“We have had a city councilman convicted,” Duggan said. “We’ve had a deputy police chief convicted, and by my count, eight police officers convicted of everything from taking bribes from the towers to falsifying the damage reports and taking bribes from the repair shops for doing repairs that were never needed.”
Duggan attributed part of the unethical behavior to Detroit’s previous practice of setting up towing agreements through the Board of Police Commissioners, which issued permits to companies instead of contracting with them through an open bidding process. City council now has oversight over towing contracts after a 2021 legal change spurred by the federal corruption probe.
“I am really confident with what we’ve done now,” Duggan said. “Contracts awarded by the police department and approved by council, continual reports on who got what tows, how much they were paid and the like – this is the only way to restore trust. I’m confident, with this new system, the profitability of playing games with the towing rotation is finally over.”
Victims of auto theft will also get a break, Duggan said. Recovered vehicles will no longer be impounded at private storage lots that fined owners for each day their vehicle wasn’t recovered. Now all stolen vehicles will be taken to DPD’s impound lot and storage fees can be removed for people who apply for a hardship waiver through the police department. Duggan said drivers who don’t have auto theft insurance won’t have to pay to recover their car.
“There’s something wrong with the fact your car gets stolen and then you’re paying to have your own car being stored,” Duggan said. “Whether you live here or whether you’re a visitor here, if your car is stolen in Detroit, you will no longer have to pay out of pocket in order to get it back,” Duggan said.
White said Detroiters can track the status of a stolen vehicle, see the condition of their car when it was impounded and view costs ahead of time through an online tool. DPD records the condition of each vehicle from the time it is impounded to the time it is released to determine whether any damage occurred. Each car is inspected for various types of internal and external damage, such as dents, scratches or missing parts.
Contracts approved Monday with Detroit-based companies are effective immediately and expire July 31, 2027. They include BBK Towing & Recovery, Inc.; 7-D’s Towing & Storage; Wayne’s Service, Inc.; Troy’s Towing, Inc.; ABA Impound, Inc.; H&B Land Towing, Inc.; and Bobby’s T.C.B. Towing Service.
Anyone who has a dispute about a towing charge can file a petition with the 36th District Court within 20 days of the vehicle being towed. Motorists who want to complain about towing prices can also contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (517) 335-7599.