Sunday, October 1, 2017
[San Bernardino County] Apple Valley Unified denies towing wrongdoing, but will change its practices anyway
Apple Valley Unified disagrees with almost everything in a San Bernardino County Grand Jury report questioning its towing practices, but the school district still has changed its procedures.
“The district respectfully disagrees with the grand jury’s conclusion that the AVUSD-PD did not have authority to stop, cite or tow vehicles,” the 21-page letter, signed by Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman, reads in part.
The district’s response to the grand jury, released Monday, cites the California Penal Code, which states peace officers have authority throughout the state.
“Notwithstanding this objection, the district has made significant improvements to its towing procedures in an effort to limit the number of tows and potential financial impact on cited drivers whose vehicles are towed,” Hoegerman wrote.
In an Aug. 8 directive to staff, provided as an attachment to the district’s response to the jury, Hoegerman wrote that the district police department’s mission was to “provide a safe environment for students, staff and parents, while on campus; to provide a safe route to and from school; to protect district assets and to build a positive relationship with students, parents and the community.”
Hoegerman writes that traffic control will occur only “briefly” before and after school, as well as during the school day, including during after-school and weekend school-related activities.
And contrary to grand jury concerns about how far afield stops had been made in previous years, he directed officers to patrol “within the school zone” or immediately adjacent to the school, a school bus stop or along a route to school.
Traffic stops are also only to be made for reasons that will be “clearly and concisely” explained in a police report, and include a fairly standard list of traffic violations or concerns.
“There must be a clear nexus for the reasonable person to see the relationship of safety and the citation,” Hoegerman wrote in the directive. And those citations all will be reviewed by the district’s chief of police.
And vehicles being towed have to be cleared through the chief of police via the dispatch office. The tow companies used will be rotated, and the registered driver, any lien holder and the registered driver will be notified by mail that the car has been towed and why.
This new, more precise definition of the school police department’s “geographical and substantive area of responsibilities” was developed with the help of law enforcement professionals, former Fontana Unified police chief Robert Radcliff, and legal counsel, according to Hoegerman’s response to the grand jury.
The grand jury’s report said that, from 2014 through 2016, district police officers had more than 700 vehicles towed — two-and-a-half times the number towed by San Bernardino City Unified, an agency four times larger than Apple Valley.
Of the 727 vehicles towed, Big Apple Automotive, owned by former Apple Valley Town Councilman Jack Collingsworth, could account for only about 30 percent, or 217, of the vehicles, the grand jury said in its report.
During that period, the grand jury report concluded that officers issued citations and had vehicles towed well outside their jurisdiction, including one citation issued at the intersection of Milpas Drive and Highway 18, nearly 6 miles east of the nearest district school, Granite Hills High School.
Only about two dozen of California’s more than 900 public school districts have their own police departments.
In nearby Victor Valley, the Hesperia Unified School District Police Department did not have any vehicles towed over the same three-year period, and the Snowline Unified School District in nearby Phelan had only one abandoned vehicle towed, according to the grand jury. Elsewhere in San Bernardino County, police at San Bernardino City Unified had 272 vehicles towed, while Fontana Unified police had only 169 vehicles towed, according to the grand jury report.
The grand jury report also alleged that more than 500 cars towed by Big Apple on behalf of Apple Valley Unified couldn’t be accounted for.
“The district respectfully disagrees with the grand jury’s sweeping, inaccurate conclusion,” the district said in its grand jury response. “In a joint effort with the towing company, the district reviewed and confirmed tow records for all 500 of the allegedly unaccounted for vehicles.”
Sometime in the next two months, Apple Valley Unified will seek proposals from towing companies. It will require those companies to keep computerized records of all vehicles towed on the district’s behalf and make those records available to the district upon request.
September 29, 2017
San Bernardino Sun
By Beau Yarbrough