Every so often a police department will come under fire about its traffic or parking policies. Things like speed traps or a policy of only writing tickets to people from out-of-town are among the most common allegations. Usually these are one horse small towns trying to generate some money to put in a stop light or something along those lines.
But Washington DC has come under attack for their policies, or in some cases lack of policies regarding their traffic and parking enforcement. Washington DC generates $179,000,000 a year in traffic citations. Almost a quarter of a billion dollars annual, I think some people might take notice of what is going on.
On Monday the DC Inspector General issued a 115 page audit of the three police agencies tasked with parking and traffic enforcement in the DC area. According to the report drivers get tickets for violations they did not commit while driving vehicles they have never owned.
The report portrays the District in a negative light especially when compared with neighboring jurisdictions. The report says there is a shortage of regulations, a legion of ticket writers often confused about the rules, “arbitrary” decision-making about who gets some speed-camera tickets and parking-meter monitors who get called on the carpet if they don’t write enough tickets.
According to a senior district official who was given anonymity in the report “One of the beauties of parking, it’s like the [Internal Revenue Service]. If you get a parking ticket, you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent . . . . And that’s worked well for us.”
Two of the report’s most revealing details focus on the use of automated speed cameras and how tickets are handled when vehicle registration documents show a license plate and the car it’s attached to don’t match.
According to the report officials reviewing speeding camera make arbitrary decisions on which car is the violator when two cars are traveling side by side. As a former traffic officer I know that cars traveling side by side can causing tracking issues with certain types of radar devices. That is why police are required to have a visual confirmation that a vehicle is speeding in addition to radar confirmation to issue traffic citations in most jurisdictions.
However, in DC they figure more times than not, the car closer to the radar is giving off the reading so that is the vehicle that is mailed a citation. Despite the fact that it usually is the car closer to the radar that is giving the reading, the reviewing official has the discretion to issue the citation to either vehicle. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
The other major issue is the fact that citations are issued to the registered owner of a license plate, even when the plate is not on their car. The theory according to police is that drivers frequently switch license tags around on their own vehicles. Never mind the fact that plates are often stolen and drivers rarely notice they are missing. They still issue a citation to the registered owner of the plate creating confusion especially when a driver knows they were not even in DC.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier called the report “flawed” and “sensationalist.” She said there is widespread support for the District’s use of automated speeding and red-light cameras.
Among many issues with the system the report also calls into question privacy laws. The report asks under what circumstances could traffic camera’s be subpoenaed to court. The reports asks could the pictures be used in criminal, civil and child custody cases?
I am sure we will hear a lot more about this issue in the days to come.