6.120 - Impounding Vehicles

Effective Date: 050118

6.120-POL

This policy applies when impounding vehicles pursuant to investigations, arrests, recoveries and parking violations. Officers will use the Case Assignment Matrix when determining which detective unit will conduct follow-up on an impounded vehicle.

1. Officers Consider Alternatives to Impound

Officers may leave a vehicle at the scene of the incident if not needed for police purposes. The vehicle may be:

- Legally parked and secured at the scene, with the owner’s permission,

- Released to the owner, or

- Privately towed at the owner’s expense.

Officers do not have to exhaust all possible alternatives to impound and do not have to wait an unreasonable amount of time for alternatives to be carried out.

2. Vehicles are Impounded Using the Appropriate Form

Department personnel may use:

- The Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record

- SECTOR trained officers may use the Electronic Tow/Impound Record. See 15.380 - SECTOR

- When using SECTOR, officers will print the required number of copies as required by a TSK. 

- The Vessel, Watercraft, or Obstruction Theft and Impound Report (form 5.42) to impound boats.

Department personnel will record the reason for impound on the tow/impound records.

3.Officers Impound Vehicles When Arresting Drivers for Certain Crimes

Officers impound the vehicle of a driver arrested for DUI or Physical Control. (See:RCW 46.55.360.)

- See 6.120-TSK-2 Impounding a Vehicle for DUI Arrests

Exception: If the vehicle is a commercial vehicle (as defined by RCW 46.04.140) or a farm transport vehicle (as defined by RCW 46.55.360) and the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, the officer may release it to the owner, if reasonable to do so and only if the owner was not in the vehicle at the time of the stop.

Officers impound the vehicle if the driver is arrested for: (See: RCW 9A.88.140)

- Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor

- Promoting Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor

- Promoting Travel for Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor

See: 6.120-TSK-5 Impounding Vehicles for Sexual Abuse of a Minor

4. Officers May Impound Vehicles With Prior Notice

Officers may impound a vehicle after giving 24 hours’ notice (See SMC 11.30.060) when the vehicle is:

- In violation of any law, or

- Abandoned, or

- Mechanically unsafe

If none of the conditions in SMC 11.30.060 are met, a vehicle may be impounded after 72 hours’ notice has been given under SMC 11.72.440 – “Parking Enforcement”.

See: 6.120-TSK-3-Impounding with a Vehicle Notice (form 8.5)

5. Officers May Impound Vehicles Without Prior Notice

See: SMC 11.30.040-When a vehicle may be impounded without prior notice.

6. Officers Perform an Inventory Search Pursuant to Impoundment of the Vehicle

Officers inspect and inventory items of value within the vehicle using the Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record.  See: 6.180 - Searches-General

Exception: Officers will not complete the inspection and inventory if the vehicle is impounded on an investigatory hold.

7. Officers Exhaust Reasonable Alternatives Prior to Impounding Vehicles Operated by Drivers Without a Valid Driver's License or With Suspended (DWLS) or Revoked Licenses

Officers provide immediate and reasonable alternatives to impoundment (e.g. allowing a licensed passenger to take possession of the vehicle).

Officers will not impound vehicles for DWLS 3rd violations.

Officers may impound vehicles for other crimes committed that warrant impoundment.

See: 6.120-TSK-4 Impounding Vehicles for DWLS

8. Officers May Impound Vehicles to the Vehicle Processing Room (VPR) for Specific Reasons

A sergeant will screen any incident where the officer believes there is a reason to impound the vehicle to the VPR. 

An officer will escort the impounded vehicle to the VPR.

- See 6.120-TSK-6 Placing Vehicles into the Vehicle Processing Room

Officers may impound a vehicle to the VPR when:

- The vehicle contains evidence and is pending a warrant, or

- A specific analysis of the vehicle must be performed (DNA, fingerprinting, damage analysis, etc.), or

- The vehicle is an integral part of the investigation (agent/tool of the crime), or

- The vehicle is held pending a seizure, or

- Acting on the direction of the case detective.

Officers will not impound vehicles to the VPR when:

- A vehicle is impounded for a crime that occurred outside of Seattle, or

- The vehicle is oversized, unless authorized by a follow up unit sergeant, or CSI, or.

- The vehicle is leaking gasoline or hazardous materials, unless screened by CSI, or

- The vehicle is damaged in an arson fire, unless screened by CSI.

9. Detectives Assigned to an Impounded Vehicle Case Retain Vehicles as Long as Necessary to Complete Investigation or Prosecution

Investigative unit sergeants report dispositions on impounded vehicles to Record Files Unit - Auto Records Team upon request.

If the primary detective decides not to obtain a search warrant for the vehicle, they will inventory the contents of the vehicle as soon as practical.

Exception: Contents of the trunk and locked containers are not opened for inventories.

Only the assigned investigative unit (detective, detective-sergeant, officer assigned to the assigned detective unit, ACT) that the vehicle is being Held for, may Release the vehicle. 

Exception: CSI can release held vehicles for other detective units.

10. Detectives Assigned to Impounded Vehicle Cases Determine When Vehicles are Improperly Impounded

SMC 11.30.180 outlines when the owner of a vehicle will be assessed impoundment, towing, and storage charges.

11. Detectives Assigned to Impound Vehicle Cases May Release the Vehicle to Other Investigative Units

See: 6.120-TSK-7- Detective Releasing a Vehicle to Other Investigative Units

12. Officers Will Not Drive Impounded Vehicles Including Those in the Vehicle Processing Room

13. Vehicles Will Only be Released to Owners from the Department Contracted Tow Lot

Detectives will arrange transport for vehicles in the Vehicle Processing Room to the tow lot prior to notifying the owner of the release.  Vehicles will not be released from the VPR, Narcotic Seizure Garage or other City processing facilities.

14. Officers Do Not Recommend Tow Companies

Officers impound vehicles related to investigations through the Communications Section.

For private tows, officers will refer to the city’s Licensed Tow Companies List

6.120-TSK-1-Impounding a Vehicle for Parking Violations

When impounding vehicles under a violation outlined in SMC 11.30.040-When a vehicle may be impounded without prior notice, the officer:

1. Issues the vehicle a Parking Ticket.

2. Completes a Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record and leaves the driver and tow company copies with the vehicle.

- The Quartermaster stocks plastic bags to protect the documents from the weather.

3. Forwards the completed supervisor copy to Data Center.

6.120-TSK-2-Impounding a Vehicle for DUI Arrests

When Impounding Vehicles under a DUI arrest, the officer:

1. Requests a tow through Communications.

2. Completes a Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record.

- The Quartermaster stocks plastic bags to protect the documents from the weather.

3. Checks the “DUI/PC IMPOUND” box in the top left corner of the form.

4. Writes “Hailey’s Law” and the crime driver was arrested for in the Narrative or Diagram portion of the form.

5. Obtains the tow company’s truck number and driver name and writes in the appropriate box on the tow record.

6. Provides the arrestee and tow company with their respective copies of the tow record.

7. Advises the arrested driver that only another registered owner or legal owner of the vehicle may redeem the vehicle within twelve hours.

8. Forwards the completed supervisor copy of the tow record to Data Center.

6.120-TSK-3-Impounding with a Vehicle Notice (form 8.5)

When Impounding Vehicles with prior notice the officer:

1. Determines if the vehicle is in violation of a law, abandoned, or mechanically unsafe.

2. Attaches a completed Notice form (8.5) to the driver’s side window or windshield of the vehicle.

3. Returns to the vehicle after the notice has lapsed and orders a tow.

4. Writes “Notice attached on (date)”in the narrative portion of the tow record.

5a. Completes a Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record and leaves the “driver” and “tow company” copies with the vehicle, or

5b. Completes the Electronic Tow/Impound Record in SECTOR and prints two copies and leaves them with the vehicle. See 15.380 - SECTOR

- The Quartermaster stocks plastic bags to protect the documents from the weather.

6.120-TSK-4-Impounding a Vehicle for DWLS

When impounding vehicles under a DWLS violation, the officer:

1. Requests a tow through Communications.

2. Completes a Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record.

3. Checks the “DWLS IMPOUND” box in the top left corner and leaves the “DAY HOLD” portion blank.

4. Completes and provides the driver with the informational page and driver copy of the tow record packet.

5. Obtains the tow company’s truck number and driver name and writes in the appropriate box on the tow record.

6. Provides the tow company with their copy of the tow record.

7. Forwards the completed supervisor copy to Data Center.

6.120-TSK-5-Impounding a Vehicle for Sexual Abuse of a Minor

When impounding vehicles under crimes outlined in RCW 9A.88.140, the officer:

1. Completes a Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record.

2. Checks the “EVIDENCE” box in the top left corner of the form.

3. Writes “VICE/Prostitution hold” and the appropriate reason for hold in the Narrative or Diagram portion of the form based on the specific probable cause for arrest.

- “This vehicle is impounded pursuant to RCW 9.68A.100—Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor and is further being held for evidentiary purposes.”

- “This vehicle is impounded pursuant to RCW 9.68A.101—Promoting Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor and is further being held for evidentiary purposes.”

- “This vehicle is impounded pursuant to RCW 9.68A.102—Promoting Travel For Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor and is further being held for evidentiary purposes.”

4. Provides a copy of the tow record and a Commercial Sexual Exploitation of a Minor Instruction Sheet (form 20.2) to the arrested person.

5. Forwards the supervisor copy of the tow record to Data Center.

6.120-TSK-6-Impounding Vehicles Into the Vehicle Processing Room (VPR)

When Impounding Vehicles into the VPR, the officer:

1. Screens the impound with the sergeant of the appropriate follow up unit.  See: Case Assignment Matrix.

2. Requests a tow through Communications.

3. Completes a Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record.

4. Writes the reason for the investigatory hold and the unit responsible for follow-up investigation in the Narrative or Diagram field on the tow record.  See: Case Assignment Matrix.

- Does not simply write "See Narrative".

5. Obtains the tow company’s truck number and driver name and writes in the appropriate box on the tow record.

6. Follows the vehicle to the VPR and keeps observation over it during transport.

7. Leaves the “Officer” and “Driver” copies on the windshield of the unlocked vehicle in the VPR and delivers the "Tow Company" copy to the tow truck operator.

- Officers ensure that the VPR is locked and secure before leaving.

8. Forwards the “Supervisor” copy to Data Center in an Alert Packet if using the paper Uniform Washington State Tow/Impound and Inventory Record.

6.120-TSK-7- Detective Releasing a Vehicle to Other Investigative Units

When the custody of the vehicle investigation is transferred from the original follow-up unit of assignment to the new follow-up unit, the original follow-up unit detective:

1.Completes the Investigative Hold Tracking Form (form 5.53) with these details:

- GO Number

- Date/Time

- Vehicle information section

- Hold transfer section

2. Faxes a copy of the Hold Tracking Form to Auto Records (206)684-8355 and sends the original Hold Tracking Form to Auto Records via Department mail.

6.120-TSK-8-Detective Releasing a Vehicle from a City Processing Facility to a City Contracted Tow Lot

When releasing a vehicle from a city processing facility to a City contracted tow lot, the follow-up unit detective:

List of city processing facilities:

- SPD vehicle processing room (VPR)

- SPD long term storage

- SPD narcotics facility

- SPD seizure garage

- Charles Street maintenance facility

- TCIS facility

1.Completes the Investigative Hold Tracking Form (form 5.53) with these details:

- GO Number

- Date/Time

- Vehicle information section

- Hold Release Information section of the Investigative Hold Tracking Form (form 5.53)

2. In Hold Release Information section:

- Checks the box indicating ‘City Pays’ when:

- The registered owner, or the driver authorized by the registered owner, in the incident leading to the investigative hold, was not arrested or charged, or

- The vehicle was improperly placed on investigatory hold, in which case; notifies their sergeant who will inform the impounding officer and notifies their precinct/section captain via email.

OR

- Checks the box indicating ‘Owner Pays’ when:

- The registered owner, or the driver authorized by the registered owner, in the incident leading to the investigative hold, was arrested or charged.

3. Completes all the information in the Vehicle Movement to/from Facility section on the Investigative Hold Tracking Form (form 5.53).

- In the ‘from’ section, checks storage facility.

- In the ‘to’ section, checks ‘Tow Co. (Specify)’ and lists the current tow contractor.

4. Calls the tow contractor to schedule a re-tow from the specified processing facility to the tow contractor’s lot.

5. Completes the Appointment Scheduling section of the Investigative Hold Tracking Form (form 5.53).

6. Faxes a copy of the Hold Tracking Form to Auto Records (206)684-8355, provides a copy of the form to the tow truck driver, and sends the original Hold Tracking Form to Auto Records via Department mail.

6.120-TSK-9-Detective Releasing a Vehicle from a City Contracted Tow Lot

When releasing a vehicle from a contracted tow lot to the owner/authorized person the follow-up unit detective:

1.Completes the Investigative Hold Tracking Form (form 5.53) with these details:

- GO Number

- Date/Time

- Vehicle information section

- Hold Release Information section of the Investigative Hold Tracking Form (form 5.53)

2. In Hold Release Information section:

- Checks the box indicating ‘City Pays’ when:

- The registered owner, or the driver authorized by the registered owner, in the incident leading to the investigative hold, was not arrested or charged, or

- The vehicle was improperly placed on investigatory hold, in which case; notifies their sergeant who will inform the impounding officer and notifies their precinct/section captain via email.

OR

- Checks the box indicating ‘Owner Pays’ when:

- The registered owner, or the driver authorized by the registered owner, in the incident leading to the investigative hold, was arrested or charged.

3. Faxes a copy of the Hold Tracking Form to Auto Records (206)684-8355 and sends the original Hold Tracking Form to Auto Records via Department mail.