Baltimore police commissioner Frederick Bealefeld is demanding a review of the decades-old practice of funneling the city’s multimillion-dollar towing business to a small circle of companies without requiring them to compete for contracts, the Baltimore Sun reports. A federal probe that netted 30 Baltimore police officers in an alleged kickback scheme involving an uncertified tow company has also triggered scrutiny of the city’s $4 million towing business. While the 10 city-certified companies were not implicated in the investigation, the case has shone a spotlight on the arcane and poorly documented process of awarding the lucrative contract.
The companies — known as “medallions” for the police-issued stickers affixed to their trucks — have had a lock on the city’s towing business for at least three decades, elbowing out competitors by expanding their fleets to cover more territory. Bealefeld refused last week to sign a contract that would have renewed the 10 companies’ agreement with the city for two years. “We need to get our house in order and figure out what’s going on,” said spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “From what we can gather, it’s a pretty old system that could probably use some updating.” City officials were unable to explain the system by which the 10 companies have been awarded the contract — or why the process of obtaining a medallion is not competitive. Officials say the arrangement benefits the city by guaranteeing quick response and safe service for vehicles that have been disabled in an accident or are illegally parked.