NEW ORLEANS — People whose cars have been stolen in New Orleans are often left with a several hundred dollar bill from a towing company to get their car back, but the City of New Orleans announced Thursday, that will change.
The city will now cover towing and storage fees of stolen vehicles recovered in the city.
"They tackled me on the street and tried to get the key from me," an anonymous carjacking victim told us as part of a WWL-TV report in January.
What he didn't realize until days after his car was stolen was that his pocket would take a hit too.
"I did not know this, crime victims have to pay to have their cars returned to them because they've been towed and stored in a tow lot. I've already had to replace my phone. So being a crime victim is going to cost me close to $1,000 because these people decided to steal my car," he said in January.
He had to pay a private towing company just under $400 in cash to get his car back.
"No one should be paying out of pocket who is a victim of a crime," New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno said.
After our report, Moreno questioned why the city wasn't following 2017 legislation she worked on to ensure victims don't have to pay to recover stolen property.
"It's long overdue. The City of New Orleans was making a mistake and illegally having victims pay to get their cars back," Moreno said.
In March, the council established a $650,000 fund to reimburse towing fees paid by crime victims and the city activated an online reimbursement portal for anyone who paid out of pocket to recover their stolen car since August 2017.
Taking it a step further, the city announced Thursday that future victims won’t have to pay those fees at all. Companies that tow and store vehicles recovered at the request of NOPD, will now bill the city instead of the victims.
"It should be flagged as stolen vehicle and the victim can recover it for free," Moreno explained.
"While it was absolutely critical to initially reimburse victims of crime for out-of-pocket costs paid, we also recognized the need to holistically reimagine this process and ultimately ensure we can relieve victims of some of the burdens placed on them by senseless acts of crime," said Mayor Cantrell in a press release by her office. "This was a collaborative effort between the NOPD and the City's towing companies, and we will continue to do our part to better protect and serve our residents, while advocating on behalf of all crime victims throughout the City."
"Pleasantly surprised to see the mayor put that out and that they are actually trying to take care of people and not put them through the extra stress of having to be victimized twice," the victim we first interviewed in January said of the recent announcement.
"Vehicle owners must provide valid proof of identification but will not be required to furnish a police report to retrieve their vehicle if a police report is previously filed with NOPD. Costs will be covered for up to 90 days of storage and only apply to stolen vehicles recovered within Orleans Parish," the announcement from City Hall explained.
The reimbursement portal is still active. Anyone whose vehicle is recovered in New Orleans but towed outside of NOPD's jurisdiction can still submit a claim for reimbursement at the city's website.