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We Welcome Office of Inspector General’s Traffic Enforcement Exposé

This past September, the District’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued its much anticipated “Report of Special Evaluation,” titled “Parking and Automated Traffic Enforcement Tickets – Part I: Ticket Issuance Practices.” It was not complimentary; in fact, it bordered on scathing –- though in a restrained, bureaucratic sort of way.

In a September 8th article, The Washington Post accurately characterized the report’s portrayal of the District “as the Wild West of traffic enforcement when compared with neighboring jurisdictions and the states, with 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.”

Now, before proceeding further with our paean of praise for the OIG’s exhaustive investigation, a disclosure: This writer neither owns a vehicle of any kind nor even has ever been issued a drivers license — in fact, never even ever applied for one. And so, we cannot be accused of having any kind of axe to grind.

Among this report’s findings that we were pleased to see prominently revealed without any sugar-coating was that procedural manuals and training materials issued to ticket writers, while “provid[ing] useful instructions on a wide range of topics, . . . provide very few specifics for handling commonly encountered situations. . . .”

This kind of complaint is, unfortunately not new. For example, back in late March of 2008 –-two years after the law was changed — Mt. Pleasant resident (and ANC commissioner) Jack McKay posted the following on DCwatch.com’s TheMail: “Mt. Pleasant] residents with Residential Permit Parking permits, on RPP-zoned blocks, can now park as close as twenty-five feet from an intersection, versus the standard forty feet . . . ‘at all times,’ courtesy of Law 16-0186, which went into effect in November 2006. . . . The no-parking signposts are placed at the forty-foot locations, so the twenty-five-foot provision permits parking up to fifteen feet beyond the signpost. Unfortunately, some of our Parking Enforcement aides cannot comprehend this. [Italics ours.] Hopefully, by now — six years along (eight years if counting the two prior to McKay’s complaint) — these ticket writers have been fully instructed on this one little point of motor vehicle law.

Further, in noting the importance that DPW has placed on its “TicPix” program that gives drivers the opportunity to be shown photos of the actual ticketed violations, “the OIG concluded that DPW far too often fails to make images available. . . . Violation images are the only assurance a motorist has that his or her ticket was correctly issued and are important evidence to hearing examiners and appeals boards tasked with adjudicating contested tickets. Therefore, the OIG recommends that DPW implement a policy that any parking ticket for which the motorist is not given clear photographic evidence of the violation shall be dismissed, unless the motorist is given an adequate explanation. [Italics ours.]

Another example of the information guidance and training problem discussed in the OIG report has to do with “[i]nconsistent ticketing practices [being of] significant concern.” Noting “that the question that drew the most varied responses from DDOT employees was whether a District motorist may park legally at a broken meter, was one that clearly needed to be addressed — yet seemingly never has. The transportation department (DDOT), notes the OIG report, which also has a cadre of ticket writers scouring the streets, “should act immediately to issue clear guidance not only to its TCOs, so that ticketing operations are more consistent, but also the public. Skeptical members of the public might believe that the District’s failure to inform them on this subject is intentional: without clear criteria of the District’s ticketing policy, a ticketed motorist is unable to prove that DDOT enforcement officers failed to follow proper procedure.

And, can the public be blamed for believing that the extensive enforcement apparatus — from DPW and DDOT ticket writers to police officers to speed cameras (even ones located in places where no pedestrian ever can be, such as the E Street expressway tunnel) — is nothing more than a huge revenue-generating scam? After all, the OIG even cites what skeptics will, not irrationally, latch on to as proof:

“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.’”

The complete, detailed report and recommendations is posted on the Post’s website at http://tinyurl.com/jwvhy8u. We urge all DC citizens to read this for it has much to say about the sorry state of how the District’s bureaucratic mindset is working against the politicians’ claim that the goal is to enhance our quality of life. Whether our new mayor-to-be will do what needs to be done, we have minimal confidence; on the other hand, now is the time for our city council to act decisively on the OIG’s recommendations – and not wait until next year.