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Mar 25, 2009 2:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village impound overflowing

Mar 25, 2009 2:26 PM

Since the Southampton Village Police Department has stepped up the enforcement of vehicle seizure laws—some passed down from New York State lawmakers, others from the Suffolk County Legislature—and introduced new traffic enforcement technology, its impound lot has become packed to the hilt.

A crackdown on unlicensed drivers and the continued enforcement of DWI and unregistered vehicle laws has upped the number of cars impounded in the village from 155 in 2008 to a forecasted total of as many as 500 in 2009. Village Police officials expect more than half of those seizures will be due to a Suffolk County Law adopted in 2005 that mandates police officers impound the vehicles of drivers caught on the road without a license for a second time.

The village began enforcing the law in April 2008, when the department’s policy manual was overhauled and a general order concerning vehicle seizures was issued to officers. Police said they were not aware of the 2005 seizure law until last year.

Of the 91 cars that the village police have seized so far this year, 57 were impounded under the 2005 law, according to police records.

Other East End police departments do not enforce the 2005 law. In fact, they’ve made a conscious decision to ignore it, citing a lack of manpower and resources, including a place to store all the cars they would have to tow.

Others said they were unaware the law existed.

Village Police Chief William Wilson said that enforcing seizure laws is worth the village’s time and effort because the police department would be liable if an unlicensed driver whose car was not seized later got into an accident and caused property damage, injury, or loss of life.

Even before the county seizure law was introduced, the Southampton Village police officers were impounding vehicles driven by repeat unlicensed drivers, though far less frequently. Detective George Ronan, who oversees the impound lot behind police headquarters on Windmill Lane, said there’s been more discretion in the past over whose cars were impounded. Some drivers were allowed to keep their vehicles, while those with an obvious pattern of disregarding their tickets and court appearances would have their cars impounded.

“What good is it if you keep handing somebody the same summons a couple times a year and they just ignore it?” Detective Ronan quipped.

When a vehicle is seized in Southampton Village for a repeat DWI or repeat unlicensed driving offense, the vehicle, owner and arrest information is passed on to Suffolk County, which eventually comes to the village impound lot to pick up the vehicle and take it to the county lot in Westhampton if a judge decides against returning a car to the owner, Southampton Village Police Department clerk Laura Sikorsky said.

As more cars linger in the village’s lot, the police are sometimes being forced to park new cars outside the impound fence, according to the police chief. He said the impound holds 50 to 55 vehicles and is already at capacity.

The chief credits much of the increase in vehicle seizures to a license plate reader, or LPR, a traffic enforcement device the department received last year and put into action in September. The LPR flags vehicles that are on a Department of Motor Vehicles “hot sheet” for having a suspended registration, unlicensed driver or other offenses.

It was once rare for the village to nab vehicles with suspended registrations—the driver would usually have to be pulled over for another offense to be caught. Since introducing the LPR, driving with a suspended registration has become one of the most frequent misdemeanor arrests in the village, next to aggravated unlicensed driving.

Detective Ronan, who oversees the impound lot, said, typically, vehicle registrations are suspended for an insurance lapse, which he said puts other drivers at risk of being left in the lurch if they are struck by an uninsured vehicle.

“It’s really not fair to the guy out there maintaining his driver’s license and his insurance on his vehicle,” Detective Ronan said.

With the rise in seizures coupled with limited space, Ms. Sikorsky said the Village Police may not be able to give car owners a break and hold onto their cars for longer than the law requires anymore.

“It’s impossible to keep everybody’s car here,” she said.

Ms. Sikorsky said that the laws differ on how long an impound must keep a car for, based on why the vehicle was seized in the first place. But once the department mails notice out to the owners that their cars are in jeopardy of being sent to a junkyard, they have 30 days to pick up their vehicles, she said.

The cars seized under county law are subject to forfeiture, meaning a county judge decides if drivers get their cars back, or if the cars are auctioned off or salvaged.

But when a car is taken in for having a suspended registration—usually because it is not insured—the Village Police do not pass the car onto the county and instead hold onto the vehicle until the owner gets the registration in order with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Ms. Sikorsky said. “Then they can just drive their cars out.”

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I am letting Bank of America know that Town of Southampton has my car and will be responsible for the car payments since I declared bankruptcy.

By Bridget325 (27), Hampton Bays on Mar 26, 09 9:40 PM
if someone without a licence and insurance crashes into me one minute or one hour or one week after law enforcement issues a summones for these offenses they are going to be lawsuits filed against the towns and villages over this i do not believe that they are ignoring thisyou need to make more room for the autos or auction them off sooner.so what you are saying that its ok to drive without a license.illinois is giving out free licenses and so is north carolina steer clear of those plates around ...more
By pinga (90), hamptonbays on Mar 29, 09 10:10 AM
completely whole heartedly pinga. very true
By OrignialLocal (34), Southampton on Mar 29, 09 11:18 AM
turn part of the cvs parking lot into an impound lot, and see how fast it gets filled with impounded cars from illegals and watch how fast people complain and start to open their eyes to this problem of illegals here.
By OrignialLocal (34), Southampton on Mar 29, 09 11:21 AM