Cameras in Chapel Hill aid tow companies

Chapel Hill to reconsider rules

Staff WriterAugust 2, 2011 

— Chapel Hill may change its towing rules after an upward spike in complaints about predatory towing downtown.

Companies have been using surveillance cameras to catch illegal parkers on private business lots - a tactic towing companies call innovative, but others call predatory.

"It's a very negative experience for people," Town Manager Roger Stancil said.

Current town rules, passed in 2008, require tow companies to post clear, large signs about towing rules on the lot, submit a report to police 30 minutes after a car is towed and cap fees at $100.

There are no rules against using cameras on private lots.

Thirteen surveillance cameras monitor one parking lot on West Franklin Street.

George's Towing and Recovery contracts with the owner of the lot and TPS Real Estate, which co-manages it. He calls the cameras innovative.

"Years ago, it was my word against your word," said King, 61, who has towed in Chapel Hill for 11 years. "The proof is in the video."

'A bad situation'

Jim Canada says George's Towing is too aggressive.

Last month, his 20-year-old daughter parked in the lot next to Noodles, then walked into another business, he said. She planned to come back and eat at Noodles, but by then her car had been towed, he said.

Canada acknowledges that his daughter broke the lot's rules, but he said property owners are purposely working with aggressive towers to pressure the town to create more parking.

He said his daughter had to pick up her car from an isolated rural lot behind a chain-link fence and hand-painted sign.

"They are putting people in a bad situation," Canada said. "I don't have a problem with my daughter being towed. It's the process."

The town closed one of its most visible public parking lots downtown this year to make way for a condominium project. It has replaced parking elsewhere downtown, but some residents say they're not convenient.

The 30-minute rule

The town's towing rules require companies to call in towed cars within 30 minutes so police don't record them as stolen.

But the reporting rule isn't enforced often, said Lt. Kevin Gunter, public information officer at the Chapel Hill Police Department.

"We don't know if we're getting the calls or not," Gunter said. "We're hopeful everybody's complying. ... There may be a discrepancy."

A log of calls that tow truck drivers are supposed to make suggests some towing companies may not be complying with that part of their jobs. Or if they are, that the car owners are picking up their towed vehicles awfully fast.

The log, which goes back to November 2010, shows a total of 504 tows called in to police. By Wednesday, 28 tow calls had come in for all of July.

King said early last week that his company always calls in its tows to the police department within 30 minutes. But customers often come to pick up their cars before that time elapses. But he was cited Thursday for two misdemeanor violations of the policy and is scheduled to appear Aug. 22 in Orange County District Court.

King could not be reached to comment after being cited.

As of July 27, the police log shows George's Towing made seven towing calls in July.

katelyn.ferral@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8746

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