To Boot, Or Not To Boot
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For Many Cities, That is the Question
PART ONE: The Boot is Turning 70
DENVER l Some old timers still call them the ‘Denver Boot,’ named for the city of its birth. In certain countries the term auto clamp is more familiar. The ingeniously simple contraption, invented in the 1940s, can disable a vehicle in seconds – be that for good or not so good.
In many communities, boots are predominantly used by towing and recovery specialists only, a simple means of disabling a violation vehicle without having to haul out a winch. Their popularity has grown considerably in recent years as more and more cities have begun tightly restricting their local towing ordinances.
At the same time, other cities have been getting in on the act, adding boots to their toolkit for parking enforcement, or often as a bill collector of sorts for unpaid parking tickets. However they’re implemented, the devices have proven themselves as useful as they are controversial.
The original Denver Boot was invented in 1944 by a man who would only get around to patenting the device some fourteen years later. He had specifically designed it as a simple solution for a growing problem in the Mile High City.
Towed vehicles were repeatedly being vandalized at the city’s impound lot that year, forcing the city to keep coughing up repair costs to vehicle owners. Local leaders were looking for a solution, with suggestions involving such drastic steps as rewriting the local parking ordinances or relocating the lot itself.
Instead, the answer came from an unlikely source: the second chair of the violin section at the Denver Symphony Orchestra. His name was Frank Marugg, a young man who had been making his living as a dress pattern maker. He was also known to have fashioned by hand the violin he played in the orchestra.
His design was an instant smash, raking in close to $20K for city coffers in its first year, a tremendous sum in the 1940s. From there, Marugg’s invention would circle the globe, bringing a fresh wave of towing solutions and legislative headaches wherever they traveled.
Other than switching away from being cast in steel to a lighter aluminum frame, the units haven’t changed much in 70 years. The boot still basically clamps itself around a vehicle’s wheel preventing either from being moved or removed.
What has changed over the years has been practice of their use and the reputations of their operators. It wouldn’t take long for such a practical and effective tool to wind up in irresponsible hands. In some parts of the world, property owners reportedly began using boots to seize vehicles left on their land. Others simply began using them as a heavyhanded negotiation tactic for receiving payment.
Today, the standard boot has become ubiquitous – and so has the controversy they usually generate.
Last month in Chicago, CBS affiliate WBBM thought they’d caught something under-handed on their hidden camera stakeout. Footage showed a young man, seemingly not dressed for recovery work or writing city citations, attaching a boot to a private vehicle.
When they approached for comment, however, the news crew discovered the young man had no outstanding tickets or violations on his license, and no monies were owed on the vehicle.
Turns out the driver had simply begun using the device to prevent his Acura from getting stolen from the neighborhood. SEE THAT STORY HERE
The bulky units, it seems, can serve as a deterrent to car thieves, but can also do the same for towing operators and parking enforcement officials. Why boot an already-booted vehicle?
The current legalities of using boots depends very much on where you stand, literally. Depending on the jurisdiction, one community may have a nearly opposite view compared to the next town over.
Many communities are openly grappling with how to control the practice of booting.
Next week in Part Two, Tow Squad News will look at the current battles underway from Syracuse to Charlotte, where some cities are looking to profit from the practice, and others are hoping to just make it all go away.
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