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Re: Evidence Impounds - In a Nutshell


rreschran
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If you're following national news, the industry's Tow Police are questioning a Florida's tow company's use of dollies and whether or not an evidence vehicle should be entered? There's plenty of footage showing a wheel-lift wrecker towing away a Mustang on dollies. As a retired police investigator and life-long tower, I teach a course called, “Forensic Evidence in Tow Operations,.” Tow operators should know simple basics required when responding to evidence calls, but, not all tow operator's are provide this training.

Lots of tower’s comments on industry forum sites are correct and some towers seem to know that techniques and methods are proper. In my opinion, for investigations of similar magnitude, there’s no reason to enter a vehicle’s interior and no reason to touch anywhere on the vehicle’s body. In the Florida case, a carrier wasn’t used as a four-tire inspection is likely to be closely scrutinized. Careful application of ratchets and straps to the wheel-lift and dollies is proper. Assuming there are no keys in the ignition, the front steering shouldn’t require tie-down when set into dollies. A dollied car doesn’t need shifting nor does the E-Brake matter. Find out what areas of evidence are being considered?

One solid point that was missed by the towers … because this is a HUGE homicide investigation, the FBI was following behind (escort) where no extension lights should be used in-areas that may compromise evidence especially on trunk hoods and doors.

Also note that; in police work, there’s a difference between the, “Letter of the Law”, and the, “Spirit of the Law.” Are extension lights and safety chains required by law? Sure. But, how many incidents and accidents do towers respond where they’re asked to do something opposite the law (loading a car upside down, using the shoulder, U-turn’s on highway, center-divider cross-thru’s etc?) Regarding safety chains and extension lights regarding lawful towing … let the investigator instruct you.

Protecting forensic evidence is about handling vehicles with minimal effort and disruption that may contaminate potential evidence. Where police investigators follow agency protocol and provide instructions, evidence towers are obligated to follow instructions to the letter. I'm a firm believe that no vehicle need be entered unless instructed by the lead investigator.

A single, serious, improper action caused or created by a tow operator could be a determining factor that compromises evidence only to ends in a non-conviction should the tow operator step outside the investigation’s “Chain of Custody” or an unintended destroying evidence. From my view in the cheap-seats, I’d say Talon’s Towing followed protocol right down to their latex gloves. Nice work guys. But, don't forget what happened when the Al's Bronco was towed in OJ’s case? What do you think?

 

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Randall C. Resch

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I have had multiple stolen vehicle and fatal investigation tows for state and local police.  Personally, I prefer to use wheel lift and dollies as I don't need to touch anything.  In the past, I have had investigators insist on a flatbed, but normally it is due to them being uneducated on the way a wheel lift and dollies work.  But, ultimately, the choice is theirs.  Now many of our locals have no issue with wheel lift and dollies used as its usually a much better option.  How many times have we all been asked to back a car into a tight police garage with no access for a flatbed, cars stuck in park with no keys and not being allowed to shift into neutral or move the steering.  I saw the video of the Mustang being towed with a police escort and I think it was done in the same manor that I would go about it too.

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The "evidence" Tow of the mustang in question was handled properly and professionally in my opinion. It goes without saying that a evidence impound of that caliber ( or any caliber for that matter ) MUST be handled as little as possible, In fact, Not at all. Hands off. This of course does touch on the "legal" aspect of tag lights and safety chain use Like Mr. Resch mentioned But it is of course a matter of real world common sense being used. The escorting L.E.O. is not only ensuring the evidence is carefully watched during the transport but is also acting as the "tag lights" for the tow. All due respect to the "tow police" out there questioning the procedures or lack there of being implemented, It is simply a matter above your pay grade..

Also, The matter of L.E. requesting or "requiring" a specific apparatus is an all too common occurrence to any of us who provide L.E. towing. Many times for myself, They will "require" a flatbed for a MVA with "heavy front end damage, only to arrive and find a Ford Taurus sitting there with the bumper cover dragging on the ground, a busted head lamp and maybe some fluids leaking. All tires up, Intact, and sometimes Still yard drivable... I have wasted my fair share of time and resources on many of these types of deals, My reply has been simple as of lately when they call and "require' a specific response or equipt. I dont tell you or your officers how to perform their duties or "require" what equipment they use to perform their duties so PLEASE dont tell me how to do mine. Give me ALL the pertainent info as to what where and how L.E. wants and I / we will respond with the appropriate apparatus, equipment, manpower and resources needed to complete the task properly, professionally and above all, SAFELY. After a few meetings with the county dispatch center and our local L.E.O. agencies, things have improved greatly. We are now getting good, detailed info as opposed to simply being asked " do you have a flatbed available for city P.D.? It took a bit of work to get the point across but in time, We did. Like Mr. Resch stated, It is all about educating L.E. agencies and of course proper training and the right gear to deal with the given situations professionally. 

PROFESSIONAL TOWING & RECOVERY IS NOT JUST A JOB.. IT IS A LIFESTYLE

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I don't see any issue whatsoever with how the Mustang was towed except for one thing - it looks like it's being towed with the trunk lid popped?  Seems super risky.  Maybe they shut it before pulling away, assuming it was opened during the investigation.

 

As far as whether keys were in ignition or not, irrelevant in terms of why dollies were used - it's so hit-or-miss these days which vehicles have locking steering columns and which don't.  It varies so much even in the same vehicle depending on year model and sometimes on trim level, and in a few rare cases, whether automatic or manual transmission.  A vehicle with non-locking steering column will absolutely move in turns with the dollies on the front wheels, so care must be taken to set the bars wide enough that the dollies won't contact the fender or rocker panels.

 

Always Monday Morning Quarterbacking on stuff like this, and everyone wants to sound like an expert.  As long as the tow operator didn't enter the vehicle or touch external surfaces (other than what was absolutely necessary for proper load securement, like as mentioned, the straps) then there should be no issues.  -- And editing for clarification, I'm not saying anyone in this post is guilty of the quarterbacking 😃 but it's one of those subjects people love to pick apart.

 

Richard

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I've run in to this issue many times and it usually stems from poor communication in the dispatchers initial call to us, the general lack of knowledge in the police arena in what a qualified and competent operator can do with a wrecker, and a serious lack of said qualified and competent operators.

 

A few years ago our local state police station called for an impound. The only info I got was we have a car to be picked up for an impound, it's at this intersection. Click. I took my wrecker as that's what was in my driveway at the time. When I arrived on scene it was a chaotic scene with police, fire and EMS all crowded in a little dirt road in the middle of no where. I asked the fire chief what we had, thinking it was a serious accident or something. He stated that there was a murder and the body was laying next to his car. The detective in charge saw me and said they needed the car, a newer Infiniti, towed to the station to be processed. He then noticed my wrecker and took a fit, saying the prosecutor ordered all evidence tows be brought in on a flatbed. I explained that with my wrecker I could lift all the axles off the ground while eliminating the need to go inside the vehicle to put it into neutral like you would with a bed. He stood firm and said the prosecutor wants it on a bed. I said no problem, I'll be back in an hour then went to switch trucks at 16 miles each way.

 

When I got back they were ready for me to load it. First thing I told the detective was I need the car in neutral. He looked at me as of I didn't tell him this an hour ago before I left, then huffed and puffed about evidence. I told him the first truck I had here could've towed it without gaining entry, but he didn't want it so now I need someone to put it in neutral. There was no solid hook points and without digging through the trunk all I had were soft straps on the lower control arms and I didn't want to damage them dragging the car in park. He finally ordered a trooper to glove up and put the car in neutral. When we got to the station we went through the same argument as someone now had to put it back in park. 

 

The way I figure is the initial dispatch error cost an hour of both my time and the police's. If they would've given all the facts in the initial call I wouldn't have had to switch trucks. This isn't going to change anytime soon as they still call for just an impound and you show up to a mangled vehicle in the woods but the driver was drunk so it's classified as impound. They do have one dispatcher who moonlights as a tow man and I love when he's working because he gives every bit of info I need to dispatch the right assets to the scene. Unfortunately he's just one guy and the rest of the dispatchers pale in comparison.

 

As far as requiring a flatbed for evidence tows, I feel we're probably mostly to blame for that. How many times do you think they had a flip flop tow guy show up in a self loader and ripped a bumper off or couldn't tow it without someone taking off a parking brake. It reminds me of the neighboring county that required a speed crane for all rollovers with injuries on certain major highways as well as all evidence holds. Bottom line was they got tired of shutting down major roads waiting for amateur towers to figure out how to do the job so they went with one company that they knew had the equipment, knowledge, and people to get the job done quickly. If we as an industry made sure we showed up looking and acting  professionally we could probably explain our reasoning to the detectives in charge and they might start listening to us. Unfortunately it seems that there's more goof balls out there then pros.

 

 

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Dperone, Your description of the L.E. dispatching you deal with sounds almost identical to the way things have been here ( although, it has been steadily improving here ) and I am sure there are many many more of us out there that get frustrated with this scenario. 

I agree that the blame for the poor communication and interactions between L.E. / dispatchers and tow companies falls on both parties shoulders. I dont blame L.E. solely.

Our industry and the black eye we have of poor training, planning and  professionalism has a major part in it also. 

PROFESSIONAL TOWING & RECOVERY IS NOT JUST A JOB.. IT IS A LIFESTYLE

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