UPTOWN — Last year, Chicago Police officers dedicated about 600 hours of their time mediating complaints against Lincoln Towing, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said at a City Council hearing Tuesday.
Pawar, who was lead sponsor of a resolution calling on the infamous towing company to "testify on their towing practices and policies," said a large volume of complaints could easily be resolved if the company had simply followed the law.
"Last year, the 20th District spent 600 man hours dealing with towing complaints. That's 600 hours they weren't doing anything else. That's 600 hours they weren't on the street. That's 600 hours they weren't patrolling our neighborhoods. That's 600 hours they spent dealing with Lincoln Towing," he said.
Pawar made the argument at a joint hearing held by the License and Public Safety committees at City Council. Acknowledging that towing services remain largely under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is already investigating Lincoln Towing, the committees took no action Tuesday.
"It's not just about the people being towed. It's about the amount of man hours our Police Department spends on complaints related to the towing companies. It's about the resources we spend trying to enforce what's on the books."
The district conducted a survey to quantify the amount of time spent by officers at Lincoln Towing relative to all other neighborhood calls "to see if [the time spent at Lincoln Towing] was above normal."
The results show that calls for service in Beat 2023 — which is bordered by Broadway on the west, Lake Michigan on the east, Bryn Mawr Avenue on the north and Foster Avenue on the south — pertaining to the company grew from 3 percent of all calls in 2013 and 2014 to about 5 percent in 2015, according to Cmdr. Sean Loughran, of the Lincoln District.
In 2015, the district received 7,030 calls and 324 of those calls solely pertained to Lincoln Towing, Loughran said adding that "there are a number of businesses that generated case reports at the location as well."
The research also showed a glaring difference between practices of Lincoln Towing and the other unnamed towing companies. The other companies habitually took photos of the cars before towing, which Loughran says decreased the incidence of complaints from consumers arguing that they'd been towed illegally.
Categorizing it as "best practice," Loughran said, "We independently discussed if we could move to adapt this policy and were surprised to find out it was actually on the books."
At the end of 2014, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) worked to pass legislation that would "make it a requirement for companies to video/photograph any vehicle prior to towing it."
"We should not continue to be left at the mercy of unscrupulous companies that make taking someone's cars a game they are guaranteed to win," Cochran said on his website promoting the legislation, which passed in April 2015.
Before towing a car, the company must take a photo of the vehicle showing "the date and time the photograph was taken; the entire vehicle and its location on the date and time the photograph was taken; and the vehicle’s license plate." The records must be kept for two years and must be provided to the owner of the vehicle upon request, free of charge, according to Chicago Decoded, a website run by the OpenGov Foundation.
After several people recalled horror stories alleging their car had been illegally towed, Allen Perl, a lawyer representing Lincoln Towing, said Pawar was attempting to bully him and the company by not returning phone calls and forcing the issue to be debated at the public meeting.
Perl alleged Pawar was inflating the statistics against the company and focusing on the "vocal minority" to paint the company in a negative light. Lincoln Towing has "only 90 complaints" pending with the Illinois Commerce Commission and just 0.4 percent of complaints against the company are upheld, he said. Pawar, however, put the number of complaints at nearly 4,000.
Pawar defended not returning the calls. He said "I thought it was important to meet here instead of discussing 40 years of complaints in a back room."
Pawar was backed up by Chicago residents who said Lincoln Towing's practices seriously affected their lives.
William Rankin, 82, said he periodically helps his neighbors by allowing them to park in the lot he owns. Two winters ago, "we had over a foot of snow and zero-degree temperatures," so he allowed his neighbor Barney, who is in his 70s and suffering from heart problems and cancer to park in the lot, he said.
"Lincoln Towing took his car, so Barney had to take two buses in zero-degree weather and pay $200 so he could get his old Pontiac and go to his therapy. That’s not funny," he said. "Barney has to go weekly for treatment. It keeps him alive."
Abby Amey said she moved from the 47th Ward after her car was illegally towed from a lot, even though it had an authorization sticker. When she attempted to reclaim the car, the cashier at Lincoln Towing refused to waive the penalty when she alleged she had been wrongfully towed.
After paying the towing fee and showing the employee the sticker on her car, Amey says the worker told her she might have put it on after reclaiming the car.
Amey testified that the Illinois Commerce Commission was unresponsive and that she had to file a civil suit to regain the money, eventually winning $1,500 in penalties as well.
"This was my life for two years," Amey said of her battle with Lincoln Towing.
"They shouldn't be in business," she added. "They need to be shut down."
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