Fresno Police, tow companies negotiate to save jobs

FRESNO, Calif.

The big crowd squeezing into Fresno's city hall annex emphasized the importance of the mission.

With the future of their businesses at stake, tow company owners poured into the building for a meeting with the Fresno Police Department.

"What I saw today was something I hadn't seen before," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. "That was all of the tow operators coming together with a unified voice because they understand times have changed."

The police department sends more than 1,000 vehicles to tow yards every month -- whether from regular traffic tickets or DUI checkpoints.

The process of getting them back is a nightmare. It starts at the police department, where anyone trying to get a car out of impound competes with people trying to get general police reports.

"Basically, just come here, pull a number and wait," said a repossession agent who wanted to be identified only as Gabe as he waited in line to get a car out of impound. "I know it's going to be an hour, hour and a half."

The process can end miles away, at any one of 43 tow yards. The police department wants to simplify the system and get out of the towing business altogether because they say it costs them money.

Officers put out feelers to out-of-town companies specializing in towing consolidation. But local tow company owners say that could cost dozens of jobs, and they're looking for a deal to keep the profitable impounds local.

"They live here," said consultant Dirk Poeschel, who's working on the deal for the towing companies. "They work here. They invest here. They're very much invested in a solution."

"They have to step up and they need to identify what's necessary and deliver the goods," said Jim Kruger of the California Tow Truck Association.

Tow companies want to keep their yards, but they've offered to take over the rest of the process and consolidate it in one location. They figure helping police save money will save their own jobs.

The heads of six big towing companies are meeting at Action Towing Thursday to lay the groundwork for the deal they'll offer police. But they don't expect to get anything done for at least a month.

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