Published On: Thu, Dec 3rd, 2020

Ombudsman: “There is no proper towing policy”

PHILIPSBURG – The government’s towing and parking policy is a mess, and in parts nonexistent, and the public prosecutor’s office has failed to collect approximately 1.3 million guilders ($758,855) in fines over the years 2015-2019. This appears from an investigation by the office of the Ombudsman into the towing policy of the police force.

The amount of uncollected fines is an approximate because the data are incomplete. For 2015 and 2018 the value of issued fines is unavailable and for 2017 there are no data at all. We used the average collection result of 2019 (56 percent) and the average of collected fines for the years 2015, 2018 and 2019 to arrive at a total. The year 2016 was an aberration: the police issued fines for a total of 1,112,300 guilders ($621,397) but the prosecutor’s office managed to collect only 30 percent: 334,120 guilders ($186,659).

According to the Ombudsman-investigation the process for issuing and processing fines is archaic: “In this day and age it is still processed manually.”

The failure to collect fines is only a small, but costly, part of the shortcomings in parking and towing policies.

The conclusions of the Ombudsman-investigation are brutal: “There is no comprehensive parking policy plan. A proper towing policy does not exist and the one that is currently in place is not being followed. As a result, towing is chaotic and insufficiently regulated.”

The Ombudsman furthermore found that the administration of the police force is “inadequately organized.”  There are no proper records of towed cars and of the fines paid by their owners. Data about police reports related to parking violations and towing are also non-existent.

The police force outsourced towing in 2017 through service level agreements to two companies: Leap Year and Hungry’s Towing, but these agreements do not absolve the police, and by extension the government, from their responsibility for the execution of these activities.

The agreements state that the companies are expected to be “vigilant, professional and maintain a full understanding of their regulatory compliance.” The towing companies must for instance use a fixed price for towing and storage, provide a safe storage location and have liability insurance and provide customers with receipt.

In January 2019 the prosecutor’s office issued a notice, informing the towing companies that they are only allowed to tow cars that are a nuisance or a danger to traffic, cars that are parked at bus or taxi stands and cars that are involved in a crime that must be seized for forensic investigation.

In spite of all these ad hoc regulations, the police are not living up to them according to the Ombudsman: “The ambition of the police force to reach the standards of integrity and transparency is applaudable but this does not translate into comparable and discernable action in the execution of the towing policy. Towing in Philipsburg remains insufficiently regulated and supervised.”

Back in 2010, the prosecutor’s office agreed with the police that towing always requires a police report that describes the level of nuisance or danger to other traffic an incorrectly parked car represents. Towing companies cannot tow a car without the permission from the police, the Ombudsman-report states and the police reports have to be provided “once the driver is on the scene.”

In March 2012, then Minister of Justice Roland Duncan announced that the police would begin to issue fines to those who put up illegal no parking-signs, closed off public parking spaces and illegally towed cars. Duncan emphasized at the time that only the police were entitled to remove cars or to place wheel clamps and that no licenses had been given to towing companies to do this.

The minister’s intentions were only communicated within the police force on July 19, 2013. In 2017 the police outsourced towing to Leap Year and Hungry’s.

The Ombudsman found that the towing companies did not adhere to the rules laid down in their agreement with the police. Hungry’s towing said it was unable to obtain liability insurance, thus prohibiting it from towing incorrectly parked cars, though towing of cars based on an article in the road traffic ordinance (lack of a license plate) remained possible. Required police reports were hardly ever written.

The Ombudsman questions Hungry’s statement about the insurance and wonders how it could provide other towing services without the required liability coverage.

The report about the investigation contains examples of complaints from owners of towed cars who found that their property had been damaged in the process and who did not get the required receipt, nor any compensation from the towing company.

The Ombudsman furthermore found that the entire towing fee (usually $70 or $75) goes to the towing companies, while the government does not receive a penny.

The Ombudsman report concludes with six recommendations. Among them are suggestions to create a parking policy for Philipsburg as well as a comprehensive towing policy with proper checks and balances. Other ideas are the establishment of a parking permit policy and updating the road traffic ordinance (for instance to facilitate the introduction of wheel clamps).

Furthermore, the Ombudsman pleads for more consistency in the execution of traffic controls and the issuing of fines and a modernization of the entire process.

Lastly, the Ombudsman points out that collecting fines is a responsibility of the public prosecutor’s office and that more action is required in this field given the poor collection percentages.

The entire report about the Ombudsman-investigation can be found at ombudsmansxm.com under the Reports & Articles button (final reports).

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