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updated: 1/24/2012 7:25 PM

Elgin to triple offenses eligible for extra towing fee

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There used to be four offenses in Elgin that would cost you $500 on top of the cost of the actual tow and impounding of your vehicle. The city council will vote Wednesday on adding eight to the list.

A new Illinois law that went into effect Jan. 1 outlines the violations for which municipalities could assign administrative towing fees. Elgin no longer can tow a vehicle for a loud music violation -- but it still plans to impose a $500 fine -- and it cannot tow when a driver's license is suspended for unpaid citations or failure to comply with emissions testing.

The offenses to be added based on the new state law include being caught driving while in possession of drug paraphernalia, marijuana or a controlled substance such as cocaine, heroin or oxycodone -- as well as driving while committing misdemeanors and felonies -- like unlawful use of weapons, discharge of firearms or possession of ammunition.

Drivers who have warrants out for their arrest, when stopped, would have their cars towed as well.

Lt. Glenn Theriault, director of administrative adjudication for the police department, said the changes are still in the realm of the legal department until they go into effect and the police start processing violations.

"This is driven more by the state making its change," Theriault said. "Legal is adapting to it, and we're next in line to adapt to the new ordinance."

The noise violation was the first to come with an administrative towing fee in Elgin. It started at $250 but was doubled in October 2009 when three new offenses were added: driving without a license, driving with a suspended or revoked license and driving under the influence.

Theriault said there are still a lot of what-ifs in deciding how to enforce DUI. For example, if a police officer saw someone driving a car and then stopped him after he left the vehicle for something like possession of marijuana, should the car be towed? What if it is a passenger of the vehicle holding drugs during a traffic stop?

Though officers make plenty of arrests for misdemeanors and felonies that are mentioned in the state law, Theriault said, only a portion of them are attached to a vehicle and would qualify for the administrative tow. For that reason, he said, he doesn't expect an enormous increase in such towing.

Mayor David Kaptain, a supporter of such expansion for years, said the state law will give cities a unified approach in implementing administrative tows and could provide consistency from one place to another -- if municipalities expand their own ordinances like Elgin.

There are no projections as to how much money the city may bring in because of the new offenses eligible for the $500 fee. But officials said revenue is not the goal.

"This is not a tax for us," Kaptain said. "The discussions all the way along have been this is a way to reduce crime. The underlying thing has always been public safety."

Council members will discuss the new ordinance during the committee of the whole meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. today at City Hall, 150 Dexter Court.

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