11/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Vehicle Impound Initiative Round Two -- What You Should Know

Last year, Denver citizens passed a ballot measure initiated by Mr. Daniel Hayes that granted police officers the ability to order the impoundments of cars driven by unlicensed drivers. That measure left the order for impoundments up to the discretion of police officers. This year, another version of that law is slated to go before voters on the November 3, 2009. What is different in the impound initiative round two? Instead of merely granting police officers the discretion of ordering impoundments of vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers, this new measure would require them to do it.


At a time when we are making choices in our City budget to close libraries or cut jobs, this initiative asks that we redirect our sparse City resources toward "arresting" cars rather than arresting criminals. According to the Denver Police Department (DPD), if this measure passes the total number of tows would increase by 115%. What does this mean practically? We would need an additional 18,160 person hours of work by police officers for impounding cars. So in addition to the law enforcement staff already working impound, we'd need to pull at least another 5 full-time officers to work on "arresting" cars instead of criminals. I'd like for you to think about whether or not we should shift our limited safety resources this way when our dedicated safety staff just stepped up by sacrificing wages in order to help prevent their co-workers from loosing jobs.

Officer hours spent calling a tow truck, waiting for that tow truck to arrive, waiting for vehicle hook up, and the filing of extensive paperwork are not the only redirection of resources that would cost the citizens of Denver if this impound initiative passes. As DPD reports, "Other personnel impacts could occur in the Communications Center, and the Property Management Bureau. This increase in out of service time by one hour will impact the number of calls being held by the dispatcher thus placing a greater demand on officers who are not towing vehicles as well as the demand on the Communications Center."

What other kinds of tax payer dollars would be spent on jailing cars instead of criminals? Impound operations would have to increase by $1.2 million. Just the storage expansion and tow slips would cost us an additional $59,000. The DPD estimates the cost of the proposed impound measure to be over $1.6 million dollars. With the passage of this initiative, the City would be increasing funding to pay for operating impound lots around the same time we will be turning over the keys to some of our recreation centers to non-profits because the City can't afford to operate them.


If for some reason your vehicle would be towed by the City -- let's say your car was booted for unpaid parking tickets -- the charges you'd face to get your car back would be $120 for a tow fee plus $20 per day for storage. However, if an officer pulled you over and you could not produce "convincing corroborating" evidence to prove your identity or, if the officer that pulled you over merely suspected that you were in the US illegally, your car would be towed. If later when you returned to retrieve your car you were not able to prove that you posses a valid driver's license the cost of the required impounding of your car under this measure would be equal to the general fees from above plus $230.00 in additional fees and about $350.00 for the cost of posting a $2500.00 bond. At a minimum you would pay at least $500.00, and potentially up to $2730.00, more for this type of impounding than if your car had been towed because of unpaid parking tickets.


One reason there is such strong concern about this measure within legal community is that it requires officers to impound the cars of drivers who cannot produce "convincing corroborating" evidence of their identity. What is "convincing" evidence? Good question. The initiative doesn't spell out what "convincing" evidence might be.

Further, law enforcement is very concerned that under this proposed measure officers would be required to order impounding if the officer merely suspects the driver to be in the United States illegally. The current law grants officers the discretion to do this already, but the new measure would actually require it. What kind of criteria would warrant such suspicion on the part of a police officer? Another good question the initiative language doesn't answer. The proposed measure doesn't tell us what kind of criteria an officer should use to establish suspicion about someone's legal citizenship status. The requirement that officers impound cars based on a fuzzy order to consider the suspiciousness of the person driving the car flies in the face of the anti-racial profiling training our safety workers are expected to undertake.

Another unwilling party that would be considerably burdened by this initiative is the car sales industry. Last year, Council members were lobbied hard by the car loan industry which voiced its strong opposition to the required $2,500 bond for releasing vehicles impounded under the current law. Car dealerships across the state told us that if they hold the bank note on a vehicle that was impounded, the required year-long bond of $2,500 was an exorbitant burden on reclaiming cars they technically owned and were responsible for. Council agreed this was unfair and decided to add an exemption for parties possessing liens on vehicles, such as car sales lenders, from having to post the $2,500 bond.

But the newly proposed version of the impound law is written so that if the impounded car had been sold to a person who is not a legal US citizen, the dealership would be responsible for putting up the $2,500 bond to release the car. In other words, if the dealership did not go through the trouble of verifying the US citizenship of the person they sold the impounded car to, they would be stuck paying between $500 and $2,730 to reposes the vehicle. If this initiative passes, it would pressure the car sales industry to add the extra burden of verifying legal citizenship of people they want to sell cars to.

The ballot featuring the impound initiative on November 3rd will also be host to Denver Public School Board members up for election. Yet, since this isn't a statewide election, voters will not receive a bluebook that offers arguments for and against the issues on the ballot. This is yet another reason that I sincerely hope that you will talk to your neighbors and friends about the very significant impacts this initiative will have on all Denver citizens.