619 – Towing

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Purpose

It is the purpose of this policy notify all employees of the rules and regulations related to the towing and storage of vehicles.

Policy

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) requires deputies to tow vehicles, ensuring the safe flow of traffic, preservation of evidence, and safe keeping following an arrest. Additionally, deputies may tow vehicles that are abandoned, have been ordered impounded or forfeited by a court, are stolen, or have had the serial number altered, obliterated, removed, or are considered contraband.

Legal References

Texas Transportation Code § 501.158 – Seizure of stolen vehicle or vehicle with altered serial number.

Texas Transportation Code § 545.305 – Removal of unlawfully stopped vehicle.

Texas Transportation Code § 548.603 – Fictitious or counterfeit inspection certificate or insurance document.

Texas Transportation Code § 601.261 – Impoundment of a motor vehicle.

Texas Transportation Code, Chapter 683 – Abandoned Motor Vehicles.

Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 18.16 – Preventing the consequences of theft.

Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 47.01 – Subject to order of court.

Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 59 – Forfeiture of Contraband

Recovery of Vehicles

Traffic Hazard

If a vehicle is determined to be a traffic hazard, it shall be removed as expeditiously as possible from the roadway. If no other means are available to remove the vehicle (i.e. push bars), the vehicle will be towed and impounded. [CALEA Standard 61.4.2]

If the owner of the traffic hazard is present, he or she may contract with a tow truck of his or her choosing to remove the motor vehicle, provided this can be done more expeditiously than having a County permitted tow truck remove it.

Abandoned Motor Vehicle

A motor vehicle, suspected of being abandoned on a public highway or street, shall have an Abandoned Motor Vehicle Notice placed on it in a conspicuous location, not to impede the owner’s view. If the motor vehicle is not moved in a time proscribed by Chapter 683 of the Texas Transportation Code, the vehicle shall be towed and impounded. [CALEA Standards 61.4.2 & 61.4.3 a]

Stolen Motor Vehicle

If a motor vehicle that is reported stolen is recovered, the deputy shall impound the motor vehicle and have it towed to an approved storage facility; or release it to the owner, as shown on the certificate of title, if said owner is present on the scene.

If a deputy locates a motor vehicle that has yet to be reported stolen, and has reasonable grounds to suspect the motor vehicle (i.e., motor running and ignition punched) to be stolen, he or she shall process the motor vehicle as a stolen motor vehicle as outlined above. [CALEA Standard 84.1.2]

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) altered, obliterated, or removed

If a VIN of a motor vehicle has been altered, obliterated, or removed, the motor vehicle shall be towed and impounded.

The deputy shall contact the Auto Theft Division and provide the case number and the location where the motor vehicle is stored so an investigator may inspect the motor vehicle and determine the VIN and ownership of the vehicle.

Custody Arrest

When a deputy makes a custody arrest of the operator of a motor vehicle, he or she shall do one of the following:

  1. Release the motor vehicle to the owner; if
    • The owner is on the scene and not in custody; and
    • He or she has a valid certificate of title; or
    • A registration check shows that person to be the owner; and
    • The owner is not impaired, has a valid driver’s license in his or her possession, and can provide proof of financial responsibility for the motor vehicle in question; and
    • The vehicle is not an integral part of a criminal episode, or
  2. Release the motor vehicle to a responsible adult at the request of the arrested person if:
    • The arrested person is the registered owner of the motor vehicle or has a valid certificate of title in his or her possession; and
    • He or she can provide proof of financial responsibility for the motor vehicle; and
    • The arrested person is not suspected of being impaired by alcohol or drugs; and
    • The person the motor vehicle is released to has a valid driver’s license.     

Evidentiary Impound

When a vehicle and/or property is towed and impounded for evidentiary purposes, the deputy shall:

Contact the appropriate investigator and advise he or she of the impound; and

Advise him or her of the location and phone number where the vehicle and/or property is stored at: (Fisher Road or Lockwood), [CALEA Standard 84.1.2] and

Place a hold on the vehicle / property if so requested by investigator(s).

If a hold is placed, the name of the person authorizing the hold shall be noted on the wrecker slip; and

Documented in an appropriate report.

If the impound is pursuant to an investigation, and processing is required by the Crime Scene Unit, the deputy shall:

  1. Place a hold on the vehicle/property, noting this  information on both the wrecker slip and in an appropriate report; and
  2. Contact the Crime Scene Unit and advise he or she of:
    • The location and phone number where the vehicle/property is stored at; and
    • What processing needs are required.

Follow the towed vehicle from the point of removal (scene) to the place of storage for chain of custody purposes. [CALEA Standard 84.1.2]

If the impound is pursuant to a hit and run crash investigation, a hold shall be placed on the vehicle for the Vehicular Crimes Division (V.C.D.), Hit & Run Unit.

Only the following personnel may release a Hit & Run hold:

  1. Hit & Run Investigator;
  2. Vehicular Crimes Division (V.C.D.) Supervisor;
  3. The original reporting deputy, or his or her supervisor, if said deputy elected to conduct the follow-up investigation.

If a vehicle is towed by the HCSO and a “hold” is placed on that vehicle, the hold shall automatically expire after five (5) days, excluding weekends and holidays.  For the hold to be released prior to the five (5) days or extended beyond the five (5) days, the storage facility must receive a signed letter on letterhead in person or by fax and the letter must contain the following:

  1. Identity of the person releasing or extending the hold.
  2. The division and telephone number of that person.
  3. Length of the extension of the hold.

Each additional hold shall expire within the stated time unless another extension is received in the same manner containing the same information.

If an outside law enforcement agency requests a vehicle to be towed and held as evidence, the deputy shall place a hold on the vehicle for the agency requesting the hold.  The deputy shall then contact the Message Center to ensure that a teletype is sent to the law enforcement agency, advising that the vehicle has been recovered and the location where the vehicle is stored. [CALEA Standard 84.1.2]

If the evidence is perishable, the deputy shall ensure that the vehicle/property is towed by a company with dry, covered storage. [CALEA Standard 84.1.2]

A Hold Release form shall be received by the storage lot before a hold can be released.

Holds may only be released in writing.

The form may be delivered by hand, facsimile transmission, or other electronic means of document transfer.

When releasing any hold, the deputy shall document this in a supplement report.

No Valid Operator’s License/No Proof of Financial Responsibility

In the event a deputy issues citations for no Operator’s License AND no proof of financial responsibility as outlined in Patrol S.O.P. Policy #404 Traffic Citations, he or she may tow the violator’s vehicle. If a deputy elects to tow the violator’s vehicle, he or she must comply with the following:

The deputy shall provide transportation for the driver and all occupants to a place of safety, i.e. residence, substation, open restaurant or similar open public business.

The deputy may not leave the violator or any occupant(s) on the side of the roadway or utilize a wrecker service for transportation unless specifically requested by the violator and/or occupant(s).

The disposition of the violator and any occupants shall be documented in the deputy’s MFR  report.

Special Circumstances

In the event a suspect’s vehicle was towed, and he or she is later released with no criminal charges being filed, the deputy shall arrange for the return of the vehicle at no cost to the individual. This section DOES NOT apply to suspects arrested and later released under Department Policy #512 – First Chance Intervention Program or similar Intervention programs.

If a tow company requires payment for the tow, the deputy shall submit a copy of the tow bill along with a letter of explanation to his or her immediate supervisor.

The deputy’s immediate supervisor shall forward a request for payment through his chain of command along with the tow bill and letter of explanation.

If the vehicle was released to a third party at the scene of the arrest, the deputy shall provide transportation to:

  1. The individual’s residence; or
  2. Where the individual’s vehicle is currently located; or
  3. To a reasonable location at the request of the individual.

Deputies may request a wrecker for other special purposes if the need arises. Example of a special purpose would be a lockout or where a winch is required.

Court Order

If a motor vehicle is ordered impounded under Texas Transportation Code § 601.261, the deputy shall not tow the motor vehicle until determining that he or she has in his or her possession either the original copy, or a certified copy, of the court order instructing the Sheriff to impound the motor vehicle.

A junked vehicle, as defined by Texas Transportation Code §683.071, shall only be removed by court order. If a court orders a junked vehicle removed, the deputy shall not tow the junked vehicle until determining that he or she has in his or her possession either the original copy, or a certified copy, of the court order showing that the junked vehicle is to be removed.

If a motor vehicle is ordered forfeited under Texas Transportation Code Chapter 704 and/or pursuant to Article 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the deputy shall not tow the motor vehicle until determining that he or she has in his or her possession either the original copy, or a certified copy, of the court order showing the motor vehicle is forfeited to Harris County, Texas.

Whenever a vehicle is towed pursuant to a court order, the deputy towing the vehicle shall forward the court order and a copy of the wrecker slip to the Vehicular Crimes Division (V.C.D.), Towing and Storage Unit, within three (3) days.

Contraband

When any motor vehicle is seized as contraband, pursuant to Article 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, it shall be towed and impounded. A hold shall then be placed on the motor vehicle for the Asset Forfeiture Unit. The deputy towing the motor vehicle is responsible for contacting the Asset Forfeiture Unit [email protected]  within 24 hours in order to file a seizure for the property. [Dept. Policy 613 – Asset Seizure, Forfeiture, and Disposition of Contraband Property]

Private Property

The HCSO does not authorize private property tows. Towing from private property is at the discretion of the vehicle owner/operator, the property owner or his or her representative. [CALEA Standard 61.4.3 b]

Examples:

A crash occurs in a parking lot and a vehicle is left non-operational, if the owner/operator of the vehicle does not request it be towed then it is to remain on the property. The deputy should note in the report (if a report is made) and/or on the “call slip”, the name of the owner and location the vehicle was left.

A crash occurs on the public roadway and is moved to private property by the owner/operator. The deputy should take the same action as above.

A deputy responds to a call of a suspicious and/or abandoned vehicle on private property, unless computer checks of the subject vehicle identify it as a stolen or the subject of another criminal incident, it will be left on the property.

The above scenarios do not apply to vehicles which need to be towed for evidentiary and/or investigative purposes.

Heavy Duty Tow Trucks

When a deputy arrives on a scene where a heavy-duty tow truck is required, he or she shall contact the operator of the vehicle, if practical, and inquire if:

The operator has a heavy-duty tow truck enroute; and

The estimated time of arrival of the heavy-duty tow truck.

If the estimated time of arrival exceeds forty-five (45) minutes, then the deputy shall instruct the operator to disregard his or her tow truck. The deputy shall then contact Dispatch and request that a County permitted heavy-duty tow truck be dispatched to the scene.

Once a heavy-duty tow truck has been contacted by Dispatch, and Dispatch advises that the heavy-duty tow truck is enroute, no other heavy-duty tow truck will be allowed to tow the vehicle.

If circumstances dictate that a County dispatched heavy-duty tow truck is no longer needed, the deputy shall immediately notify Dispatch to contact the towing company and disregard the heavy-duty tow truck.

If a County dispatched heavy-duty tow truck has not arrived within 45 minutes of the time Dispatch advises it is enroute, the deputy shall contact the Vehicular Crimes Division (V.C.D.), Towing and Storage Unit, at the earliest opportunity to report a violation of the County Ordinance.

Documentation and Notifications

Required forms

[CALEA Standards 61.4.3 c & 84.1.1 c]

When a vehicle is towed for any reason, the deputy shall complete a wrecker slip.

The deputy shall generate appropriate reports relating to towing a vehicle.

Notification

When a motor vehicle is towed as a traffic hazard, an abandoned motor vehicle, a recovered or suspected stolen motor vehicle, involving crash scenes, or for evidentiary purposes, the deputy shall contact the Message Center at (346) 286-2151 within 1-hour of towing any vehicle and report the following information to the clerk/or Communications Officer on duty: [CALEA Standard 61.4.3 c]

  1. Name of the deputy who impounded the motor vehicle;
  2. Description of the motor vehicle;
  3. Location the motor vehicle was towed from;
  4. Location and phone number where the motor vehicle is stored at;
  5. Condition of the motor vehicle;
  6. Chip number of the tow truck that towed the vehicle; and
  7. If there is a hold on the vehicle.

Wrecker Slip Storage

The deputy shall turn in all completed wrecker slips prior to the end of their shift unless otherwise authorized by a supervisor. All completed wrecker slips shall be maintained at the District Substations or designated Patrol Facility (office) and forwarded weekly to the Harris County Communications Division and maintained there until the end of the calendar year. [CALEA Standard 61.4.3 c]

After being maintained at the Message Center, all wrecker slips shall be sent to record archives in accordance with HCSO procedures. [CALEA Standard 61.4.3 c]

Revision:

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

September 2010                  July 17, 2018

November 5, 2013               October 26, 2018

September 23, 2014            June 28, 2021

September 17, 2015

October 23, 2015

March 10, 2016

March 10, 2017

August 14, 2017

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