TAMPA, Florida – 10Investigates found that more often than not, citizens who are victimized by predatory towing companies in Hillsborough County aren't being told they have a right to file complaints with the Public Transportation Commission (PTC), an agency designed specifically to handle consumer issues with tow trucks and taxicabs.
Instead, it appears many towing complaints to the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) are met with apologies and incorrect claims that the issues are strictly civil in nature. In fact, Florida State statute 715.07 specifies many towing violations are criminal in nature.
Monday night, 10Investigates exposed how rarely local agencies across greater Tampa Bay were enforcing state and local towing laws, even though there is great evidence they are routinely broken.
While TPD has taken action against towing companies on occasion, the sheriff's office has not. Instead, the duty is generally left up to the PTC, but deputies and dispatchers are not consistently informing upset drivers about the small agency.
"It's a challenge for us, make no mistake about it," PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream said of the public's level of awareness of what the PTC does.
"(10Investigates has) done some stories. We're grateful for that; I think that's helped a little bit ... but we'll put forth more effort to try and enhance that situation."
Cockream said he would try to work better with local law enforcement agencies so potential towing victims find his agency when they want to file a complaint. It can even be done online.
Unlike in Pinellas County, where contact information for county regulators is required to be printed on towing receipts, Hillsborough County has no mandate for wreckers to inform upset drivers of their right to file appeals or complaints.
HCSO declined interview for this story, but said it receives over 1.5 millions calls per year and dispatchers shouldn't be judged from any single call.
Steve Hegarty, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department, said the agency's dispatchers do a great job with citizen complaints, but TPD would take a look at how towing calls are handled to make sure towing violations are referred to the proper regulators.
10/3/16: Law enforcement failing to police tow trucks
9/21/16: 10Investigates prompts more Hillsborough towing changes
9/20/16: Pinellas adopts anti-DUI towing rules
8/22/16: Morgan & Morgan seeking class action over parking, towing
8/9/16: Drastic new towing measures proposed in Pinellas
7/11/16: More towing refunds coming
6/27/16: 10Investigates busts more bad tow practices
6/2/16: Tampa advances drastic mesaure to fight DUI
6/1/16: Do International Plaza parking policies encourage DUI?
5/10/16: Tampa downplays Ybor towing troubles, withholds public records
5/5/16: Tow trucks overcharge, while law enforcement looks other way
4/26/16: Pasco approves anti-DUI towing ordinance
4/13/16: Another case of predatory towing in Tampa
3/29/16: Pinellas commissioners consider anti-towing ordinance
3/17/16: Tampa to crack down on predatory towing outside bars
2/25/16: Can Tampa Bay invent new ways to discourage DUIs?
2/24/16: Pasco now considering copying Tampa's ordinance
2/16/16: Hillsborough moves toward better tow laws
2/10/16: Pinellas officials want tow truck protections too
2/9/16: Refunds for tow victims, as Hillsborough eyes amnesty law
2/9/16: EDITORIAL: Other cities should copy Tampa
2/8/16: Tampa council calls for immediate tow fixes
2/7/16: Tow trucks penalizing drinkers who don't drive
1/25/16: Confronting predatory towing & how to get a refund if you're towed illegally
1/18/16: Failure to "move over" puts tow operators in danger