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Bell generates big money from towing cars; resident demands investigation

August 2, 2010 |  7:39 pm

Some community activists in Bell are demanding an independent investigation into complaints that Bell police unfairly towed and impounded cars.

According to Bell budget documents reviewed by The Times on Monday, the city generated at least $652,000 in revenue related to towing cars last fiscal year, which ended June 30. 

The vast majority of that sum -- $574,000 -- was from what the document described as "unlicensed driver release" revenues. It’s unclear exactly where that money came from.

But some Bell residents have complained that police officers have pulled over motorists and towed away their vehicles if the drivers don’t have licenses. Bell has a large immigrant population, including many illegal immigrants.

Residents have also complained about police being too aggressive about towing parked cars.

The city documents show that revenue from the "unlicensed driver release" fee has increased in recent years. In fiscal 2004-05, the fee generated about $450,000.

The documents also make reference to a DUI "cost recovery" generating nearly $447,000 last fiscal year. But it’s unclear whether that revenue was generated by organized DUI checkpoints or routine police patrols. The issue of DUI checkpoints and illegal immigrants has been an issue throughout the state.

People without driver’s licenses often have their cars confiscated, even if they are not drunk. In neighboring Maywood, checkpoints and aggressive towing of parked cars have been an issue in the past. 

Cristina Garcia, a member of the Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse, said that the city's fees are too high and that an outside entity should look into them. Residents are "paying up to $500 in towing and storage fees," Garcia said. "The impound is something in the range of $350 and the towing is $150."

A former Bell police officer, who filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the city last week, complained to city leaders in 2009 that the Police Department was towing cars to generate revenues. James Corcoran wrote in a letter to an attorney for the city that he could not, "in good faith, support our departmental vehicle impound policy."

"The majority of the vehicles seized by this department are not, in my opinion, a danger to the community care function. I do agree that, should a vehicle qualify as a danger, the impound is justified," he wrote. The documents were included in allegations he made to state and local officials.

-- Ruben Vives and Richard Winton