22.00.160     TOWING SERVICES      (CALEA 61.4.3)


Towing and impounding of vehicles shall be in compliance with all State and local laws, ordinances, and agreements.


 Private Towing


Procedures regarding tow services are governed by the current City Vehicle Impound Agreement and existing Departmental impound policies.


Where possible and practical, officers will request a tow company preferred by the person needing tow service.  Upon the person's request for a preferred tow, officers will notify NORCOM  of such request.  If a vehicle is a traffic hazard the preferred tow service must be able to respond within 30 minutes.  If unable to comply within 30 minutes the request will be denied.


When a preferred tow service is not requested, officers will notify NORCOM  which will call tow dispatch to contact the next tow company on the rotating list.


No Department employee will promote or solicit business for any tow service or company.


 Abandoned Vehicles      (CALEA 61.4.3)


When an unattended, abandoned or hulk vehicle has been left on the City street and does not constitute an obstruction to traffic nor jeopardize public safety, a minimum of 24-hours notice will be given prior to impound.  Use of the Bellevue Police Notification Form constitutes a 24-hour notice.


The officer locating or receiving a complaint about an abandoned or hulk vehicle will be responsible for attaching the 24-hour notice and impounding the vehicle if necessary.


Prior to impounding, the officer will make a records and registration check through the State Department of Licensing, WACIC, and NCIC.


If current registration is available, make a reasonable effort to contact the registered owner and advise that the vehicle must be removed from the street or it will be impounded at the owner's expense.


If reasonable attempts are unsuccessful in locating the owner and having the vehicle removed, the vehicle is to be impounded.  These impounds should occur during normal business hours.


Abandoned or hulk vehicles on private property, which are not required for criminal evidence, are the responsibility of the owner of the property.  Complaints of abandoned or hulk vehicles on private property are to be referred to the City's Code Compliance Officer.


 Impound and Inventory Searches


Officers will impound vehicles only as authorized by RCW Chapter 46 or Bellevue City Code Chapter 11.  Impounding of vehicles for reasons other than – (1) seizure as evidence of a crime, (2) for forfeiture, or (3) as part of the process of pursuing a warrant to search the vehicle – generally is not lawful under the Washington constitution unless officers have considered reasonable alternatives to impoundment.  In the following situations, officers may, at their discretion, impound vehicles without prior notice to the registered owner:


v     When an officer has reason to believe the vehicle was used in the commission of a crime or is itself evidence of a crime and the vehicle is necessary for evidence collection, preservation and/or case preparation


v     When an officer determines a vehicle to be stolen and the owner is unavailable or the vehicle is required for evidence processing


v     When a driver is arrested and taken into custody and because of intoxication or otherwise, the driver is physically or mentally incapable of deciding what to do to protect the vehicle


v     When a vehicle is involved in a collision and the driver is physically or mentally incapable of deciding what to do to protect the vehicle


v     When an officer finds a vehicle unattended at the scene of a collision and the operator/owner is not available


v     When an officer finds a vehicle unattended upon any street and the vehicle constitutes an obstruction to traffic or jeopardizes public safety, and reasonable efforts to locate the driver have failed


v     When an officer determines a vehicle is so mechanically defective as to be unsafe for operation on the City streets


v     When the vehicle is operated by a driver with a suspended or revoked operator’s license and there are no reasonable alternatives (such as leaving the vehicle locked and parked or allowing a licensed insured driver to remove the vehicle promptly). 


Vehicles will not be impounded for reasons other than listed above unless authorized by law and/or the circumstances of the incident indicate the need for immediate action to protect the public safety. Officers will contact NORCOM and request a tow for vehicles to be impounded.  When possible, the officer will advise NORCOM of the following: 


v     Officer's personnel number


v     Case number


v     Location and reasons for the impound


v     Vehicle description - color, year, make, license number.


The vehicle identification number will be provided, if necessary, to identify the vehicle.


The officer will advise NORCOM when the actual impound is completed and confirm the name of the tow company.


The officer will complete the Vehicle Impound/Waiver/Release Form for each vehicle impounded.  NORCOM will complete and maintain the Tow and Impound Log for each vehicle impounded.



Investigative Holds


A "Police Hold" of an impounded vehicle is authorized if the vehicle is needed for evidence and the on-duty supervisor approves the hold.  It will be the responsibility of the supervisor authorizing the hold to ensure that the hold is appropriate and does not result in unnecessary impound or storage fees.


If a hold is placed on a vehicle for investigative purposes, it is the responsibility of the on-duty Patrol supervisor authorizing the hold to notify a supervisor in the Section for which the vehicle is being held.  The notified supervisor will be responsible for the continued hold or release of the vehicle to the original tow company.


Inventory Searches of Impounded Vehicles


When a vehicle is impounded, an inventory search pursuant to this policy may be conducted.  Inventory searches will be conducted as part of standard Department procedures to protect the vehicle owner’s property, to protect the Officer and the Department against false claims of theft by the owner, and to protect the Officer from potential danger and will not be a pretext for random search for contraband or other evidentiary items.

1.      Determine whether impound is authorized.  If not, do not impound or conduct an inventory search.

2.      If an impound is authorized, consider reasonable alternatives, such as leaving the vehicle locked and parked or allowing a licensed insured driver to remove the vehicle promptly. 

a.      Under the reasonable alternative rule, the vehicle may not be impounded if:

i.  The owner is present, the owner does not wish to have the vehicle impounded, the vehicle may be lawfully parked at the scene and the owner is willing to sign a liability waiver or

ii. The owner is present, the owner does not wish to have the vehicle impounded and the owner is willing to let a sober, licensed driver remove the vehicle from the scene.  The sober, licensed driver must either be at the scene or able to respond to the scene in a reasonable period of time.

b.      The reasonable alternative rule does not apply if:

i.  The vehicle is evidence of a crime,

ii. The vehicle is subject to forfeiture, or

iii.                        A statute expressly requires impoundment.

3.      Owner Present:  If an impound is authorized and no reasonable alternatives exist, ask the owner, if present, if he or she will consent to the inventory search.  The owner is free to reject the protection that an inventory search provides and take the chance that no loss will occur.  Drivers or owners present at the time the vehicle is impounded will be asked if their vehicle contains any valuables which they would like to have relocated for improved security.  Drivers or owners will be allowed to lock vehicles and retain keys if they desire.  If the owner declines the inventory search, the owner will need to sign the Department Vehicle Impound/Waiver/Release Form indicating that he/she declined the inventory and accepts the risk that loss of vehicle contents may occur.

4.      Owner Not Present:   If an impound is authorized and the owner is not present, the vehicle may be inventoried as a matter of standard procedure.


Scope of Inventory Search


Absent exigent circumstances or consent, officers conducting an inventory search will not search or look into a locked trunk, closed containers (luggage, boxes, etc.) and closed glove compartments.  Locked or closed containers should be inventoried as a sealed unit and not opened absent exigent circumstances. Officers must be able to articulate the reasons for entering closed trunks, containers, etc.  Police are not permitted by Washington case law to search the locked trunk of an impounded vehicle absent a manifest necessity for so doing, and the possibility of theft does not constitute manifest necessity. Purses and other non-locked or sealed items may be searched during an inventory search. Officers should inventory valuables or money located during this search.


Evidence of a crime or contraband in plain view or seized during impoundment will be handled in accordance with existing procedures.


Vehicles obviously containing high value property, such as money, jewels, computer equipment, etc., will be safeguarded as reasonably necessary until a responsible party of proper interest takes charge or the vehicle is transferred to the tow company.


The Vehicle Impound/Waiver/Release Form will be prepared for each vehicle that is impounded.


If a vehicle is inventoried, the inventory listing of valuable contents will be completed.  Supplemental form(s) will be utilized if more space is necessary.


Upon completing the form(s), the officer will sign the form(s), attempt to obtain the owner’s signature indicating the owner declined an inventory if appropriate and, before releasing the vehicle to tow company personnel, will require the tow truck driver to sign the form(s).


The officer will provide a copy of the form to tow company personnel.


 Release of Vehicles Impounded to Police Facilities


Release of vehicles impounded to a location other than the tow company storage facility will be authorized only if the person requesting the release produces proof of ownership and proof of payment to the impounding tow company for the initial impound charges.


Absent this documentation, the vehicle will then be impounded to the original tow company's storage facility.


 Vehicle Impound Waiver


Vehicle impounds should be avoided if not of evidentiary value or necessary to protect the public.  The vehicle impound waiver is designed to avoid departmental liability which could occur when an officer agrees with the responsible party to a disposition of a vehicle other than impounding.


Officers will attempt to obtain a signed waiver in lieu of impounding when circumstances reasonably indicate the vehicle can be left safely parked.


Officers will ensure that the vehicle impound waiver form is properly signed and the person requesting the use of the waiver is the registered owner of the vehicle, lawful spouse, member of the immediate family, or can establish a rightful possession of the vehicle.


The person requesting the use of the waiver must fully understand the vehicle will simply remain parked and locked in that location.


 Third Party Release


Officers may release a vehicle to a third party in lieu of impounding, provided that:


v     Prior to release of the vehicle to another person, the person produces a valid operator's license and is determined to be otherwise qualified and able to drive subject to the registered owner’s permission


v     The officer completes the release portion of the Vehicle Impound/Waiver/Release form


Towing companies to be placed on the Police tow list must comply with State and municipal codes, controlling license, inspections, and proof of insurance.