7 Sep 2014
WASHINGTON—Although Metropolitan Police Department officers write less than five percent of all parking tickets, a majority of them are handwritten and prone to higher error rates.
About 60 percent of the approximately 75,000 parking tickets that police wrote in the last fiscal year remain handwritten, according to D.C Inspector General.
Claire Pilkington, of Fairfax County, is one example of a person D.C pursued to pay a fine for a vehicle that doesn’t belong to her. As WTOP Ticketbuster reported, D.C. police wrote a parking ticket for the license plate “PICKLES”. However, Officer David Kiley should have written “P1CKLES”.
Since his handwriting did not distinguish between an “I” and a “1”, the city pursued the wrong woman. “It was just sloppy handwriting. Had the officer been more careful, this wouldn’t have been an issue,” says Pilkington.
In fact, a ticket writer in Maryland made a similar error on his machine. But since it was a machine ticket, parking officials in Montgomery County spotted the error and quickly fixed it.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier knows this is a problem, although the solution is not as easy.
“It’s a variety of issues, but handwriting is a biggie. We are trying to continue to stress to the officers that penmanship is key. Obviously you can’t teach penmanship to adults like you do with school kids”, says Lanier.
She adds that supervisors are supposed to closely inspect the ticket for any error or letters that might not be clear. In Pilkington’s case, there is no evidence a supervisor at the Second District office asked Kiley about the “I” versus “1” issue.
“The first line supervisors do sometimes ask the officers when they turn them in to make something more clear in their handwriting, but a human error is a human error,” says Lanier.
Unlike the Department of Public Works (DPW), which writes a vast majority of the two million parking tickets in the city, D.C police almost never take photographs with tickets written from a handheld machine.
DPW director William Howland has been pushing his parking officers to take pictures with virtually all parking tickets, including the license plate. The measure is intended to increase accuracy, but is also an attempt to prevent innocent Maryland and Virginia residents like Pilkington from getting parking tickets in the mail.
“Not all the officers using the handheld machines are taking photographs, but I’m going to make it a requirement. Even with moving violations, it’s really not that bad of an idea’, says Lanier.
“Officers should be taking photographs. I think that should be a requirement. Had a photograph been taken in our case, it would’ve been much easier to show that it wasn’t our car,” adds Pilkington.
Lanier has increased the handhelds from 100 to nearly 200 officers in recent years. But even that number represents only a small number of the officers actually writing tickets.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to buy handheld ticket writers for the entire force. They cost $2500 a piece,” she says.
Based on WTOP Ticketbuster cases, the D.C Department of Transportation (DDOT) doesn’t take pictures either. The Inspector general found DDOT was plagues with many problems in their parking enforcement, which leads to drivers getting tickets based on the particular officer on the block.
While Lanier and Howland have agreed to one-on-one interviews with WTOP Ticketbusters to discuss parking ticket practices and the Inspector General’s report, DDOT has not granted an interview with Interim director Matthew Brown or any staffers in parking enforcement. The agency has also declined to answer specific questions from WTOP Ticketbuster about the report.
Lanier, Howland and Brown are expected to testify before a joint D.C Council hearing scheduled next Wednesday to discuss the report.
If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us the details of your case – along with documentation – to firstname.lastname@example.org
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By Ari Ashe, WTOP