Inspector General Slams D.C. Ticket Procedures

The D.C. Inspector General Monday released a scathing report on the District’s aggressive parking ticket programs, slamming D.C. police speed cameras that issue tickets "without conclusive identification" of the vehicles and ticket-writing by public works and transportation department employees.

The 134-page report also suggests the city values the nearly $172 million in ticket revenue over ticket accuracy.

The Inspector General's office offered up an illuminating quote in the report: "One of the most insightful and provocative comments made to the OIG team came from a senior District official: '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 ... That has worked well for us.'"

Writing of both parking and other traffic tickets is a big revenue source for the District. In fiscal year 2013, the District collected $82,847,664 in parking tickets alone; typically, parking tickets are written by the District's Department of Public Works.

Another $88,832,976 came from automated traffic enforcement tickets, including red-light and speed cameras. Those are typically written by Metropolitan Police Department officers, though a host of other city agencies also can issue tickets.

Issuing tickets can be a subjective process, the Inspector General found. Pictures from speed cameras and red light cameras are reviewed before tickets are issued.

However, the Metropolitan Police Department's training manual instructs reviewers to issue tickets even when the car in the picture doesn't match their registration databases.

That puts drivers in the position of arguing that they don't own the car in the picture, the IG found.

And speed cameras can't tell which lane a speeding car is in, which "introduces an element of uncertainty" when the camera is monitoring two or more lanes of traffic moving away from the camera, the report found.

In those cases, sworn officers have to decide which vehicle was speeding and if a ticket is warranted -- which the Inspector General found they do with a "lack of precision and certainty."

Parking tickets had their own issues. If you get a parking ticket in D.C., you are supposed to be able to view a photo of the violation through DPW's TicPix program.

But too often, the pictures are not available there, the Inspector General found. The IG even suggested that any ticket that didn't have a picture on TicPix should be dismissed.

The report was sent to Police Chief Cathy Lanier; William O. Howland, director of the District's Department of Public Works; and Matthew Brown, interim director of the District Department of Transportation.

Lanier said police will implement changes to strengthen automated traffic enforcement but cited a misunderstanding represented in the report.

"The goal is not to reduce traffic violations at a single location or time of day; the goal is to modify driver behavior throughout the District so that pedestrians, bicyclists, and other motorists are safer while using the roadways," Lanier said in a statement.

Lon Anderson of Triple A auto club agreed with the report.

"The District has a very cavalier attitude toward the entire ticketing process," he said.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said she'll hold a hearing on the report and how to improve but also said the IG played up revenues over the public safety of the traffic program.

"I believe that every light, if we could manage it, should have a red light camera," she said. "Red light running is extraordinarily dangerous."

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