Glendale police are turning to tow trucks in a new crackdown on motorists who let unpaid parking tickets pile up.
Under the program, launched May 10 and carried out intermittently since then, officers have impounded vehicles with five or more unpaid parking tickets. By the end of last week, officers had towed 55 vehicles, collecting fines on about 500 tickets when the owners claimed the vehicles, said Sgt. Donald MacNeil, a police traffic administration supervisor.
MacNeil said officers used a computer to identify scofflaws--drivers who repeatedly violate parking rules--then sent a special team to find the offenders' vehicles and arrange a tow.
"It is a research-based, computer-aided task force," he said.
The crackdown is expected to continue over the next three to six months, as officers whittle down their list of scofflaws.
Parking problems, aggravated by the city's population boom, have become a key complaint of Glendale residents.
City officials spent more than a year debating a proposal to restrict overnight parking as one way to relieve curbside congestion. In the wake of strong community opposition, the Glendale City Council last month abandoned the overnight parking ban but urged increased enforcement of existing laws.
"We have seen that as sort of a mission or goal statement for the traffic division," MacNeil said.
The city's 11 traffic enforcement officers ticket motorists who ignore street-sweeping signs, fail to pay parking meters or stay too long in a space with a parking time limit. Violations occur in both residential and commercial areas, MacNeil said.
The new crackdown is aimed at drivers who simply toss their tickets on the floor or stuff them into the glove box.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles will not allow motorists to renew their car's registration until all parking tickets are paid. If the tickets remain unpaid, police may summon a tow truck because the vehicle lacks current registration.
But MacNeil said the system is flawed because unpaid tickets take many months to work their way through the courts and state vehicle offices before a registration renewal is blocked.
Glendale police opted to use a state law that allows them to tow a vehicle immediately if it has collected five or more tickets over at least five days. Officers reviewed computer lists of repeat offenders and pinpointed the neighborhoods where the violations most often occurred.
During early morning hours, members of the task force converged on these areas to find the offenders' cars and called for tow trucks.
Some motorists had to dig deep into their wallets to get their cars back. For most overdue Glendale parking tickets, the charge is $42--double the normal fee. Fines for parking in a handicapped space are significantly higher.
The owner also must pay a $56 towing fee, plus $9.50 per day for storage if the vehicle is not claimed within two hours.
Many of those who have been towed in the new crackdown have paid the penalties without much protest, said Carvel Gay, owner of one of the three Glendale firms that have police towing contracts.
"The majority of them seem to think that they finally got caught," Gay said. "They licked their wounds and said they were hopeful it won't happen again."