Do Car Seizures For Small Offenses Hurt The Poor?


A tough car-seizure law in Waukegan, Ill., has brought in $2 million and improved safety in its first year, city officials say. The Chicago Tribune reports that some Hispanics are complaining it disproportionately affects them.

The ordinance allows police to seize cars of people accused of drunken driving or committing a felony like selling drugs or prostitution. It allows seizure for what critics say are common offenses like driving without a license or without insurance.

Police acknowledge that drivers have been left stranded at the side of the road sometimes in the middle of the night. To get their cars back, drivers must pay $500, plus $150 for towing, and daily storage fees of up to $25. They may have to pay a fine.

“Prostitution, crime, drugs–take the cars, deport them, no problem,” said Margaret Carrasco of the Mexican-American Political Organization. It is unfair when cars are confiscated and towed for big fines on less serious violations, she said. “The people who are being impacted are persons who are making minimum wage and barely surviving,” she said. “I think $500 is too much in a blue-collar town. This isn’t Lake Forest.”

The city seized 6,830 vehicles in 2003, Police Chief Bill Biang told the City Council this month. The $500 fine was paid for 3,863 vehicles, adding nearly $2 million to the city’s general revenue fund. Waukegan had 201 fewer accidents than in 2002, a 7 percent reduction. “Our goal is not to make money,” Biang said. “Our goal in this is to keep people from getting injured in accidents and save lives.”


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