Illinois town says it imposes expensive fee to save taxpayers

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EDWARDSVILLE, IL (KTVI) - No apologies from the city with one of the highest tow release fees we could find. Edwardsville, Illinois charges $300 for the piece of paper to release your car, if you’re towed after being charged for some crimes. Fox 2`s Chris Hayes found out the fee was suggested by a former police chief, who then admitted stealing the money.

Edwardsville`s tow release fee was first proposed by former police chief James Bedell. As the city started collecting it, Bedell later admitted he pocketed it, $140,000 worth. He went to prison and the city brought on a new chief who stands by the fee.

Current chief Jay Keeven told me, “I can`t deal with anything that happened with this department before February 2013, nor should I be responsible for that. But I should certainly be accountable for everything that happens from February 2013 forward.”

Chief Keeven says he not only believes it`s the right thing for police to charge a tow release fee, he says he recommended Illinois State Police start charging the fee when he commanded I.S.P. Operational Services. Keeven said, “It`s a choice. People can choose to violate the law or not violate the law, where a taxpayer doesn`t get a choice. If we raise their assessment in our community, you have to pay.”

Some Metro East communities like Washington Park and East St. Louis charge as high as $500 for the tow release. Other towns, like Waterloo, don't charge a dime.

I asked Chief Keeven, “What if a citizen says, well Waterloo doesn`t charge anything, Edwardsville charges $300?” He replied, “Well that`s Waterloo`s prerogative not to charge. Our city council made a decision that I certainly support and that is, it`s not a fine, it`s not a fee, it`s an opportunity for us to recuperate our expense.”

Chief Keeven says a DUI could take an officer hours to process, including up to two hours of overtime, just to attend court. He provided city records showing Edwardsville collected $59,700 in tow release fees last year. He also crunched the data of suspects who`ve paid, showing 82% of them are white. That compares to a population that`s 85.4% white according to the most recent census data from 2010.

Keeven said, “It is a diverse group, male, female, black, white, different age ranges, so there really isn`t a particular group of individuals. It`s the individuals that have chosen to violate the law.”

Keeven added that they do not charge this fee if your license has been suspended for unpaid traffic fines, only for a specific list of offenses like DUI or driving on a suspended license because of a DUI.

It`s also interesting to note that tow release fees are often higher on the Illinois side, considering the way Illinois` courts are set up differently than Missouri. Illinois towns do not operate their own courts. That doesn’t mean an Illinois town won’t get some of its traffic fine money, but the case will be adjudicated by the County court rather than the municipality.

Follow Chris Hayes on Twitter @ChrisHayesTV