CAMP HILL, Pa. (WHTM) – Camp Hill Borough is now responding to an ABC27 investigation into Camp Hill Police and West Shore Regional Police towing practices.
Public records, towing bills, and accounts from drivers show both police departments are favoring the towing business G.A. Smith in a system drivers say is costing them more money and taking away their choices.
Sources within both police departments tell ABC27 that Camp Hill Chief Doug Hockenberry and West Shore Regional Chief Mike Hope rolled out directives to call G.A. Smith for crashes after a mechanic they knew got a job at G.A. Smith. ABC27 talked to several drivers who say West Shore Regional and Camp Hill Police did not allow them to choose their towing company, and they felt forced to call G.A. Smith.
Gus Bostdorf says he was able to drive his car after a crash in Camp Hill, had it parked legally on the side of a residential street, and was still required to call G.A. Smith.
Pennsylvania law generally allows the driver to choose a towing company “in consultation with law enforcement and designate where the vehicle is to be towed, unless the vehicle owner’s tow truck operator of choice cannot respond to the scene in a timely fashion, and if the vehicle is a hazard, impedes the flow of traffic, or is in an illegal location in the opinion of law enforcement.”
ABC27 filed Right to Know requests for towing information. Both departments refused to provide the records. ABC27 appealed to the Office of Open Records and won (click here and here to read the final determinations from the Office of Open Records). Camp Hill continued to fight the Office of Open Records’ decision, spending more tax dollars by refusing to turn over the records. West Shore did release the records.
Those records show in the two years before instructing officers to call G.A. Smith, the company towed 3.4 percent of West Shore crashes. Since the directive to officers, G.A. Smith has responded to 97 percent of crashes, towing 223 out of 230 crashes over a five-year span.
Camp Hill’s police department, West Shore Regional’s police department, and G.A. Smith did not return calls for comment when ABC27 was investigating towing practices. Six days after the story aired, Camp Hill Borough posted the following statement on Facebook:
“Camp Hill Borough provides these comments regarding the recent ABC27 News report on towing.”
“Contrary to what was reported in the recent ABC27 News report about towing in Camp Hill, the Camp Hill Police Department contacted G.A. Smith to tow Gus Bostdorf’s vehicle because it was an impediment to traffic on Market Street, it posed a safety hazard and the car could not be safely driven under its own power. The Police Department allows officers to base their towing decisions on quality of service. The Police Department tries to accommodate owner preferences but was not able to do so in the incident involving Mr. Bostdorf due to the urgency of restoring traffic flow on the main street through the Borough.”
“Regarding the right to know request, the Police Department does not have a written “directive” naming G.A. Smith as the “primary towing vendor.” The Borough has denied repeated Right to Know requests from Ms. St. Hilaire for that record because it simply does not exist. Camp Hill has responded to numerous Right to Know requests from Ms. St. Hilaire in the past year, many of which required the Borough to search the email accounts of every Borough official and employee over a seven year period. Contrary to Ms. St. Hilaire’s report, the Office of Open Records found in the Borough’s favor that the towing directive does not exist.”
“As part of the Borough’s annual review of service and contracts, the approach to towing will also be included as the Borough strives to assure that all services are provided in the fairest and most economical manner possible.”
Click here for the ABC27 investigation, which includes links to documents from the Office of Open Records related to ABC27’s efforts to get Camp Hill borough to release public records.