43 towing companies impound vehicles for the Fresno Police Department. Many of their owners say a consolidation deal could shut them down.
Whether from DUI checkpoints or hit-and-run accidents, the police department sends dozens of vehicles to Action Towing every month. Officers send hundreds more to other tow yards and it's a lucrative arrangement for the folks with the giant trucks. They make about $100 on every tow, and a lot more if the owners never pick up their vehicles.
"At least 60% of my towed vehicles are not being picked up as of now and we're able to recycle them through the local wrecking yards and also we're able to build some of these cars back up and put them on the road," said Action Towing owner John DeCicco.
But now the towing companies are worried that police are about to change the deal and dry up one of their biggest sources of income.
"If we lose the cars that we presently are getting, there's quite a few of us that will have to fold and be out of business," DeCicco said.
Towing company owners say jobs are at stake, but without a change, they're at stake at the police department as well. Impound fees help fund the traffic division, but when owners don't pick up their cars, the police department only gets $40 per tow.
"We're recovering about 65-75% of the actual cost of impounding vehicles," said Capt. Andy Hall, who heads the police department's traffic division. "The rest is subsidized by the taxpayer."
Police have put out feelers to companies like Auto Return, which consolidated towing services in San Francisco and San Diego. On its website, the Bay Area company claims to streamline the process, keeping all impounded cars in one location, instead of 43 as there are in Fresno.
It also claims to speed up the return process, which involves at least two stops in Fresno -- first at the police department, where people wait up to four hours to get through the lines -- and then at the tow yard.
"I understand people should be penalized for their mistakes, but it's an all day process," said Paula Yang, who waited in line at the police department for 2 ½ hours. "If you don't run, the money just goes up and up."
Tow company owners and police will meet on Wednesday to see if they can find a solution that works for everybody and saves everybody's job.