See all posts re City of Bell scandal.
Salary scandal in Bell shines light on impound cash
September 10, 2010
Police are supposed to keep the streets safe. In Bell, it appears, the police department also expected officers to keep the city’s coffers filled.
As part of a policy ostensibly to deter gang activity, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that Bell patrol officers aggressively pursued unlicensed motorists. Officers there – in the wake of the city's salary scandal – say they operated under quotas for how many arrests to make, traffic tickets to write and cars to impound each day. [Update: La Opinion first reported the Bell Police Department's impounding policy and the revenue it generated.]
California law permits police to seize for 30 days cars driven by people without licenses. Police across the state are impounding a huge volume of vehicles.
It’s unknown exactly how many, but the California Office of Traffic Safety documented [PDF] 108,050 30-day impounds in 2008 at sobriety operations (checkpoints, saturation patrols) alone.
Cities collect impound release fees. Increasingly, local governments also get a cut of the revenue that tow companies charge car owners for moving and storing seized vehicles, California Watch reported earlier this year.
The 30-day impounds, however, face a legal challenge from the owners of impounded cars who argue the law violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. At question is whether the impounds are a constitutional administrative penalty for violating state law.
The lawsuit, Salazar v. Maywood, awaits oral arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals later this year.
As the Times showed in Bell, with the impound law in effect, the dollars pile up:
Impounding cars, usually because the drivers are unlicensed, has been a steady revenue stream in Bell for years. In the last fiscal year, the city expected to make more than $770,000 from release fees, which would amount to between 2,000 and 2,500 impounds per year. The previous year, the department made more than $834,000.
The city charges unlicensed motorists a $300 fee to release the car; those charged with driving under the influence are charged $400. The number does not include costs imposed by the impound lot, which starts with a $104 base fee and increases $27 per day.
Bell’s release fee is higher than most other of the state’s cities, but is nowhere near the highest. Oxnard’s police department charges drivers $495.
Similarly, while Bell might offer an extreme example of the practice, California cities have long been aware of impounds’ profit potential.
In 2000, the University of California, Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies published step-by-step instructions on how to implement a “winning” impound program.
The instructions were based on an examination of how the city of Upland took over towing and storage from private firms. Impounds, the report shows, are revenue positive...
UPDATE: Someone left the following links in the comments section. You can put in the name of a city and find out salaries: for actual salaries, by person, check out www.lasalaries.com or www.sanfranciscosalaries.com
Where is all this money coming from? I doubt that tax rates are unusually high. There must be something going on in the city that is generating a lot of revenue. Are officials being paid to look the other way? This should be an interesting investigation.
Poor City Pays Officials Top Dollars
Source: Los Angeles Times
July 15, 2010
Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, pays its top officials some of the highest salaries in the nation, including nearly $800,000 annually for its city manager. In addition to the $787,637 salary of Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo, Bell pays Police Chief Randy Adams $457,000 a year, about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and more than double New York City's police commissioner.