By on May 28, 2009

Vehicle owners could lose their car when passing through Pekin, Illinois, if a passenger happens to be carrying something on the city’s list of contraband. On Tuesday, the Pekin City Council agreed to tinker with its controversial automobile towing ordinance that has boosted the police department’s annual revenue by 29 percent. It has also generated opposition from local residents like Ed Emmons who is circulating a petition calling for reform. “The city saw a new way to make money and ran with the idea,” Emmons wrote in March. “The council should do what the majority of their constituents wish abolish the new vehicle impound ordinance.”

The ordinance, which took effect last May, allows a police officer to seize any car by claiming he has “probable cause” to believe the driver or any passenger possesses “a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia.” It also allows seizure in cases of drunk driving and driving with an expired license. The owner of the vehicle must pay the city a $500 fine, plus towing and storage fees that mount while waiting 72 hours—not counting weekends and holidays—for a city-paid hearing examiner to determine guilt.

“The formal rules of evidence will not apply at the hearing, and hearsay testimony will be allowed, and will be admissible,” the ordinance explains. “If the hearing officer determines that the vehicle was not used as hereinabove provided, the motor vehicle will be returned to the owner of record of the vehicle without any penalty or other costs, other than the cost of towing and storage.”

The ordinance gained attention when Mary Worrick filed suit over the impounding of her car in August. Pekin Police Officer Jeff Stoltz allegedly spotted Worrick’s son, Anthony Myers, 19, stopping over the white line in the car at an intersection. Stoltz initiated a traffic stop which allowed him to search the vehicle with a drug dog. Stoltz soon found a bong belonging to a sixteen-year-old backseat passenger. Stoltz ordered the car impounded, even though there was no evidence that Myers or Worrick knew anything about the illegal device. Myers was not even given a traffic ticket, but the car was taken.

While drug pipes are the most obvious examples of an item that could trigger impoundment, the Illinois Code defines “drug paraphernalia” so loosely that probable cause could be cited in the cases of a car carrying relatively common household items. The city of Burlington, Iowa, provides a more explicit list that is consistent with the Illinois state code’s definition of paraphernalia.

“It includes, but is not limited to: Scales and balances used, intended for use, or designed for use in weighing or measuring controlled substances . . . dextrose or lactose . . . blenders, bowls, containers, spoons and mixing devices . . . capsules, balloons, envelopes and other containers,” Burlington City Code 53.03 states.

In just the first six months that the impounding ordinance was active, Pekin police collected $124,420 in revenue from towing. This represented the second greatest source of revenue next to traffic tickets, which generated $306,265 in 2008. Parking tickets generated only $40,990 in the city of 34,000.

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33 Comments on “Illinois: Little City Banks Big Bucks from Towing Mania...”


  • avatar
    John Horner

    Sometimes the “rule of law” people go out of their minds and become confiscatory predators.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Dextrose or lactose? Drugs? Where is the connection there? I can see where this ordinance has its usefulness, but it appears that once again we have cops taking it to the extreme because they are encouraged to create a revenue stream for their city. I’m a fan of taking the car if someone is driving on a suspended license, is a DUI repeat offender, or is using the car to run drugs, but there are obvious things that your car could be taken for when it shouldn’t. Come on, an envelope or “other kinds of containers”? There need to be more limitations on what may cause a tow.

  • avatar
    TireGuy

    Seeing such laws, the question comes up whether the USA still can be seen as a country of legality?

  • avatar
    tedward

    “The formal rules of evidence will not apply at the hearing, and hearsay testimony
    will be allowed, and will be admissible,”

    Disgusting

  • avatar

    # John Horner :
    May 28th, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Sometimes the “rule of law” people go out of their minds and become confiscatory predators.

    Actually, most of the opposition to this shit comes from the right side of the political spectrum, primarily libertarians. While some “law & order” conservatives tend to give LEOs a lot of latitude, at conservative blogs like HotAir, the longest comment threads are on police brutality, with the vast majority of commenters being very suspicious of state power. Most of the defenders of bad police behavior are either cops or holster sniffers.

    It’s interesting that left wing groups like the ACLU don’t seem to challenge property seizure laws because ultimately they want to increase the power of the state to intrude on your life, and possibly because they don’t really believe in property rights.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Well, the citizens must want this. Or even like it. It can be no other way, since the voters put the people they REALLY WANT into office.

    The voters can confirm or refute their choice with the next election in Pekin.

  • avatar
    menno

    We drove through our village on the highway and noted about 7 police cars from 3 police forces (state police, county police and I swear, city police from 15 miles away – out of their jurisdiction. At least, that would be the case if we lived in a nation of Law, which we no clearly no longer do).

    I commented to my wife “wonder if there is a sale on donuts in the village?” But we were obviously dubious.

    Went to our friends house and mentioned it, and she said the newspaper commented that because of the lack of money to hire & pay police, the cops were saying they’d be hiring 10 extra cops for the summer influx of tourists and would be paying their salaries by doing stings. She also mentioned that seat belt infractions went up to $80 recently. Even dinging someone every 5 minutes and figuring a “50% profit margin” would see a cops monthly wage paid in a couple of days of stings.

    Of course, I regard all of it (silly Constitutionalist and believer in the Republic that I am) as EXTORTION WITH MENACES.

    We went home and saw a “temporary road sign” stating that the cops were doing “seat belt checks”.

    They did not try to stop me (both of us had our seat belts on).

    Fair warning if you come up to the Traverse City Michigan area; you’re liable to get “stung”.

    Isn’t Michigan a great place? Bankrupt; 3rd world roads; “welcome to Michigan; thanks for coming to spend your money on vacation; here’s an $80 ticket.”

    At least we’re not quite yet in banana-republic-land like Obama’s home state of Illinois where, as this story alludes to, you can lose your car for the idiocy of a passenger carrying something dumb. Or Ontario, in Canada, where you get your car impounded (and license revoked temporarily) with huge fines, if you go over a certain number over the speed limit.

    BTW Ronnie; isn’t it clear that the ACLU has no interest in the Constitution; they pick and choose leftist causes, ONLY. Doesn’t that give folks a clue about what they’re about?

  • avatar

    Dextrose or lactose? Drugs? Where is the connection there?

    Powdered sugar is used to “step on” or dilute powdered drugs.

    If I lived in or near Pekin, I’d go into the local KMart and WalMart stores, give the managers $50 to tell me when their next shipment of corncob pipes and Top tobacco is coming in, then report the truck as carrying drug paraphernalia. If the police won’t respond and seize the truck from KMart, I’d effect a citizen’s arrest and force the police to respond.

    I’m sure you can buy ZigZags and the cigarellos used to roll blunts at every gas station and convenience store in Pekin. Why stop at seizing vehicles when the city can seize entire businesses?

    It seems to me that if the Pekin PD enforces this seizure ordinance against only people driving cars and not businesses openly selling things that can be used for taking drugs, there’s a possible legal challenge based on equal protection.

    I don’t know how they can legally distinguish a pipe used for smoking marijuana, opium or cocaine from one used for smoking tobacco or other legal plants.

    People have smoked marijuana and other drugs since long before there were head shops and bong manufacturers. All that drug paraphernalia laws do is move the business to hardware stores and lumber yards. I have US Patent # 4,253,475 on The Hydraulic Bong. The prototypes were constructed from PVC pipe and plumbing fittings I got at the lumber yard. Is PVC drug paraphernalia?

    If you run out of papers or can’t find a pipe, a soda pop can works just fine. Use your thumbnail or a small spoon to create a bowl shaped depression on the side of the can near the base. Take a straight pin and puncture the bowl with a lot of small holes. Take a bigger tool and put a 1/4″ hole in the base for a carburetor. Inhale through the poptop hole.

    By Pekin’s standard, driving around with empty Coke cans could get your car confiscated.

    My guess is that the first person who fights this into the Federal court system will win. It’s a blatant violation of the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. Frankly I think that any elected officials who enacted legislation that says that property can be confiscated without due process (throwing out the rules of evidence is practically the definition of lack of due process) should be jailed themselves.

    With Obama and the Dems in power in Washington, you can expect more expansion of state power like this.

  • avatar
    tedward

    menno

    “isn’t it clear that the ACLU has no interest in the Constitution; they pick and choose leftist causes, ONLY”

    Sorry, but that is completely untrue. I can see why you would get that impression, but the ACLU does a lot more than most people realize.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    ^^^The ACLU is known to be left leaning. Whatever the leftist cause is, they’ll support it, which includes a bigger government and as said in more and more of our lives.

    I’m all for law and order and cracking down on people for drugs and drinking, but at the same point, this is clearly abuse by city government and shows their addiction to money and the power in having a bigger government. This kind of action should not be tolerated.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    tedward is right.

    In fact, the ACLU once infuriated its members and sacrificed thousands of members’ dues when it stubbornly went to court to defend a pathetic little man who insisted on conducting a swastika-brandishing “Nazi Party” parade in Skokie, Illinois. Skokie, I believe, had more Holocaust survivors per capita at the time than any other town in the country.

  • avatar
    tedward

    “Whatever the leftist cause is, they’ll support it”

    sigh…that’s untrue also. Seriously, the ACLU is just a bunch of lawyers that farm out civil liberty cases to interested law firms. If they were to be involved in this I would bet any amount of my own money that it wouldn’t be to support a kangaroo court hearing process.

    They have pissed off a lot of NRA members by not adopting their reading of the 2nd ammendment (we’ll see if that changes now, frankly I’m with the NRA on that one). They’ve also really pissed off the Christianists by always showing up for a good seperation of church and state argument, they usually win these. And, of course, lets not forget “southern issues” which they are invariably on one side of.

    That last one is the most important imo, Republican politicians dog whistling their southern strategy using the ACLU as a convenient target has engendered a lot of partisan heat against what really isn’t a party political organization.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Didn’t the ACLU defend Rush Limbaugh’s right to keep his medical records private at some point? What’s that they say about a broken clock?

    Anyhow, I think the founding fathers would have dumped these towtrucks in the harbour and tarred and feathered the operators and those supporting this crap.

  • avatar
    ruckover

    Ronnie Schreiber claimed “It’s interesting that left wing groups like the ACLU don’t seem to challenge property seizure laws because ultimately they want to increase the power of the state to intrude on your life, and possibly because they don’t really believe in property rights.”

    If you do just a bit of poking around, you will see that the ACLU most assuredly does work to protect property rights, both in search and seizure and in eminent domain cases.

  • avatar
    tedward

    The real shame about this is someone is going to loose their temper (understandably) and assualt a cop or tow truck driver. That guy will go to jail and while he’s there the courts will squash this process. His life will still be ruined.

  • avatar

    I have long believed that no law should be passed without a written argument accompanying it that details how it fits within the Constitution. This law doesn’t even pass anywhere close to being even remotely Constitutionally correct. I often wonder how many legislators have ever read the Constitution since they left junior high school?

    Remember folks: It isn’t “just a piece of paper”, it is the foundation of our country.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    rodster205

    “The formal rules of evidence will not apply at the hearing, and hearsay testimony
    will be allowed, and will be admissible,”

    So a city council can just override the U.S. Constitution? I can already hear the rustle of the class-action attorneys gathering…

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    The ACLU has a pretty good track record on every constitutional right except for, unfortunately, the 2nd. No other liberal or conservative organization has fought as much.

    The ACLU’s M.I.A. status on fighting reverse racism and defending speach that offends “protected” classes of people “hate” speech is disturbing.

    Maybe if conservatives would step up and see the importance of supporting a group that fights for constitutional rights the ACLA would not be forced to pander so much to liberal donors.

    Here is the ACLU coverage of and involvement in fighting asset forfeiture:

    http://www.aclu.org/police/forfeit/

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    The city of Pekin, IL got its name from the belief of it’s early residents that if they could drive a big 8000 mile long pole through the Earth, it would emerge in the city in China known as Peking.

    True fact.

  • avatar
    brettc

    menno: I think the law in Ontario makes sense. The impoundment/fine/suspension happens if you’re caught going 50 km/hour over the posted limit. If someone is doing 151 km/h on the 401 for example, there should be some severe repercussions. No one needs to go that fast. As the Ontario drivers handbook says, driving is a privilege, not a right.

  • avatar

    It’s been a long time since the ACLU represented Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie.

    More to the point, it’d be more persuasive if you could show the ACLU supporting mainstream conservatives to protect their civil liberties, particularly in the last 10 years. I can’t recall the ACLU ever getting involved in any of the campus free speech cases that have been championed by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The ACLU has not opposed campus speech codes nor has it opposed “hate crimes” (i.e. thought crimes) legislation. The ACLU supports same sex marriage and doesn’t support the First Amendment rights of religious organizations to have their own standards for marriage and sexuality. There was a time when the ACLU was a civil liberties organization, but now it’s just another left wing pressure group.

    It’s a shame. Nat Hentoff, the great writer on jazz and prominent First Amendment authority, used to be on the national board of the ACLU. He is now a vocal critic of the organization, its abandonment of traditional civil liberties and its embrace of totalitarian statism.

    Battle for the ACLU By Nat Hentoff
    This powerful civil liberties organization is in crisis, and impassioned supporters of its mission want change now. It’s up to the national leadership to listen — and to resign.

    Muzzled at the ACLU
    Posted 6/13/2006
    By Nat Hentoff

    President applauds House ‘thought crimes’ law

    By Nat Hentoff
    What also appalls me, as the new federal bill races toward a presidential signature, is that for years, and now, the American Civil Liberties Union approves “hate crimes” prosecutions!

    …Is there no non-politically correct ACLU lawyer or other staff worker or anyone in the ACLU affiliates around the country or any dues-paying member outraged enough to demand of the ACLU’s ruling circle to at last disavow this corruption of the Constitution?

  • avatar

    Look, left wing or right wing politics aside, Pekin is engaged in a gross abuse of governmental power.

    That they would say that rules of evidence won’t apply shows just how brazen the city officials are. That a city attorney didn’t object or advise the city council otherwise makes me wonder if any of these folks have ever read the Constitution.

    IANAL, but I see constitutional issues of due process, equal protection and takings. I figure this ordinance will be challenged as soon as an attorney gets him BMW seized because his kid left a roach in the ashtray.

    The utter arrogance with which politicians, public employees and the police treat the public and their property is staggering.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Re: brettc:

    “menno: I think the law in Ontario makes sense. The impoundment/fine/suspension happens if you’re caught going 50 km/hour over the posted limit. If someone is doing 151 km/h on the 401 for example, there should be some severe repercussions. No one needs to go that fast. As the Ontario drivers handbook says, driving is a privilege, not a right.”

    Your line of analysis, which is unfortunately shared by a great number of US citizens, is why we are fucked.

    Here is what is wrong with the policy you described: “If you’re caught.”

    Property seizures should occur ONLY after a trial by a jury of one’s peers. Not because a corrupt cop that is too lazy, or does not have the facts, to build a solid court case says so.

    While the seizures in Peking are inappropriate both procedurally and with regard to the punishment fitting the crime, the most common problem with police seizures is the lack of due process.

  • avatar
    tedward

    ACLU stepped up for the “bong hits for jesus” case if I recall correctly, I don’t think their position differs substantially from FIRE’s on this issue. If they haven’t worked together it’s not ideology causing the disconnect (there’s probably an asshole involved, no idea which side).

    From what I understand religious organizations aren’t being prohibited from discriminating (that’s what it is), they are prohibited from doing so and taking/administering government charity.

    I’m not going to defend the hate crimes legislation, I disagree with it too. That’s one of those issues that I disagree with on principle while acknowledging there are strong pragmatic arguments for it.

    We seem to actually be in full agreement on the topic of the post though, so moving on…

  • avatar
    windswords

    ruckover:

    “If you do just a bit of poking around, you will see that the ACLU most assuredly does work to protect property rights, both in search and seizure and in eminent domain cases.”

    Where do they stand on the Supreme Court Keylo (sp?) decision allowing government to seize private property to give to another private entity so that they will recieve higher property taxes?

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    Ferran Adria should stay far, far away from Pekin.

  • avatar
    tedward

    windswords

    They filed on behalf of Kelo I believe, but (I think) were oddly reticent when it came to public statements. I’m not at all sure that second point is true, there was a lot of posturing around this decision.

    Eminent domain is bread and butter for these guys though.

  • avatar
    jackc10

    Overlooked in this is the reelationship between Anchor Towing and the City, if the photo is connected to the story, or whoever is doing the towing. If it is the City itself, you can bet money that there is a connection between the seller of towing vehicles and some City Official.

    The towing contract in many jurisdictions can be a big deal, fought over behind the scenes. This one might attract some operators to relocate just to get some of this action.

    If Jacksonville, FL Sheriff’s Office hears about this, his Community Service Officers can really return the best return on investment.

  • avatar

    The city of Pekin, IL got its name from the belief of it’s early residents that if they could drive a big 8000 mile long pole through the Earth, it would emerge in the city in China known as Peking.

    True fact.

    I grew up in Peoria, which is next to Pekin, and this is correct. When I lived there, Pekin High School’s sports teams were called the Chinks — seriously, you can look it up. A few years ago, the name was changed, for obvious reasons.

  • avatar
    Smegley

    Whoever wrote this law is probably now working for Homeland Security writing opinions about people like me who are basically “terrorists at heart” because I am suspicious of people who write laws like this.

  • avatar

    This is very similar to all of those municipalities that are installing the red-light cameras and claiming it is to promote safety while at the same time reducing the yellow light interval because that increases revenue (and collisions).

  • avatar
    bryanska

    Sounds like New Rome, redux.

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