(KTVI) – Our Fox Files investigation found some cities adding hundreds of dollars in red tape. It only depends on where police pull you over.
You won`t pay this fee in West County. This is an extra charge, paid to some police departments for towing your car. It's separate from what you pay the tow yard. It’s called an administrative cost, to pay for a piece of paper, just so you can prove to the tow lot that you’re the owner.
One driver said, “I think it`s their way of making money and it`s horrible. They already got your ticket.” The woman, who did not want to be identified, claimed her problems started with a municipal ordinance ticket she didn`t even know about. When she didn't show up to court, she said a Judge suspended her license.
She said, “I had a warrant out for my arrest and I didn`t know anything about it so I was arrested and then given tickets for driving while suspended and it just spiraled out of control.”
She still can`t get caught up and says she`s forced to continue driving on a suspended license to two different jobs, working 13 hour days. She said, “How can you support kids and pay for a house without working and they want us to be productive citizens.”
She`s trying to pay thousands in fees, but expensive red tape put her further behind. Towns call it a `tow release fee. `
If you get pulled over in West County, you pay no extra fee. I couldn’t find a West County Department charging such a fee, but if you're driving in parts of North County, it`s like a game of roulette. You`ll pay $25 for the tow release in towns like Bell Ridge, Velda City, Charlack and Wellston. (Ferguson just eliminated it's $25 fee this past September). In Pine Lawn you’ll pay $50. It`ll cost you $100 in St. Ann and Country Club Hills. Then on the other side of the river, you`ll find towns charging a sliding scale starting at $150 and ending as high as $500, depending on the crime.
In West County, Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul said, “It doesn`t put a good taste in people`s mouths.” In Ellisville, offenders do not pay a tow release fee, just the ticket. Paul added, “Those folks are the ones that can`t afford $400 dollars, you know, they`re living paycheck to paycheck.”
Mayor Paul said it`s important to remember, who`s to blame. He said, “It starts with the elected officials and it starts with good governance."
The tow release fee is not a police department fee, even though you pay police. City Councils pass the ordinances to charge you. Mayor Paul said, “Unfortunately, the police appear to be the bad guys in this situation, but they`re just upholding the law.”
St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez said, “We still have to enforce the law, but at the same time, we are a human too.” Chief Jimenez said he’d just waived the hundred-dollar fee for a pregnant woman. He added, “We give a lot of breaks and that`s why it always comes down to officer discretion.”
But should his officers have to be in that position of using discretion, when it comes to red tape? I asked Chief Jimenez, “Why $100?”
Jimenez responded, “That was set prior so I can`t answer that.”
I showed him how much prices vary and that it costs just $10 dollars a few miles away in St. John. Even some poorer communities like Pagedale only charge 10 bucks.
Chief Jimenez said, “I did not know that so that`s interesting. It`s good facts to know hearing that.”
His department must enforce his council's orders. Plus, the tow release fee only involves a serious traffic crime. With that, Jimenez said, “You know what, shame on the person who is driving without insurance.”
The woman, who we interviewed earlier, said she wants to do the right thing. She said, “I haven`t committed a speeding violation. I wasn`t in an accident. It had nothing to do with driving at all.” She added that she has, “approximately $3,000 in (traffic) debts I have to pay before I can even apply to get my license reinstated.”
The City of Ferguson eliminated its $25 in September. Fox 2 asked about fees in the month of October, when a Police Department spokesman said the current tow release fee was $25. After our report, a citizen told us about the recent City Council decision to remove that fee.
Also, while you'll find fees as high as $500 in some Illinois towns, you'll also find towns, like Waterloo, with no tow release fees.
Click on our map to see where you’ll pay more to police for the same offense.