BY JONIQUE GAYNOR, Staff Reporter
A policeman monitors the towing away of a taxi in Half-Way Tree square. - RUDOLPH BROWN
AS THE 'BATTLE' between taxi/bus operators and police officers continues, some drivers are accusing the lawmen of deliberately forcing them to pay wrecker fees to earn money.
The drivers say the police opt not to escort them to the pound, but rather prefer to have their vehicles towed.
They say some officers own wreckers and others have friends who do and also suggest that many get 'a cut' each time a car is towed. They say this is just another example of the corruption that exists within the police force.
Two wrecker service operators within the Corporate Area confirmed the practice. While admitting that they were not participants in the illicit practice, they say the officers have intentionally towed vehicles to get money.
"There are some specific wreckers that work with the police, it's an ongoing business," one operator said.
The operator said he knows at least two wrecker companies in which police officers were either part owners or closely linked. He added that the normal fee to tow a vehicle in the Corporate Area was $2,500 yet some operators were charging between $4,000 and $6,000 because they had to give police officers at least $1,000 off each vehicle. The operator said that taximen were the group most targeted and often paid any sum that was told to them because they want their vehicle and it would not be returned unless they paid.
THE WEEKEND STAR spoke with several taxi and bus drivers who all agreed that this was something which was commonly done.
One taxi operator who has been working since 1997, told THE WEEKEND STAR, "From wha me understand, if yu car nuh disabled, an a police seh u fi go a pound, im can escort yu, but tru dem an di wrecker man dem have a plan whe dem get a ting each time, dem put wi pan wrecker. If yu park at a no parking spot, an you're in the car, a police nuh haffi call no wrecker. Dem can jus tell yu fi move or gi yu a ticket, but as dem see yu, dem tek out dem phone."
Another driver, Roy, also believes that the police are working together with the wrecker companies. He told THE WEEKEND STAR, "What dem do, is dat two policeman come down, one at the front and one at the back, so you can't move, an den two -twos yu see dem call wrecker an in a flash dem come tek whe di car. Dem mus a work together."
But Deputy Superintendent Byron Powell of the Police Traffic Division, says it is not so. He told THE WEEKEND STAR that the law allows for the seizure of vehicles, but does not detail how the vehicle should be seized. He said he is familiar with these accusations but no one has come forward with evidence. He said of the allegations, "These are just attempts to divert attention from their illegal actions."
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
He also explained that in the past, officers gave motorists the opportunity to drive their vehicles, but some used the chance to drive away, forcing the officers to chase them, often into volatile areas. He said the officers have learnt from these experiences and now prefer to use the services of the wrecker.
He added that the Traffic Department's investigations did not reveal any officer who owned or had interests in a wrecker company. He added, "We have some [wreckers] that we work with, but sometimes we use the yellow pages and call random places."
He, however, encouraged motorists who know of corrupt officers, to report them to the Professional Standards Branch. He said that those persons who believe that their vehicles are being illegally towed away can also report it.
The division, he also added, was bent on "ridding the streets of illegal taxi and bus operators" but stressed that police officers who were found to be involved in illegal activities, would be dealt with strictly.