Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DC Inspector General Finds Motorists are "Guilty Until Proven Innocent"

The DC Inspector General released a scathing report on the Districts ATE (Automated Traffic Enforcement) system and parking ticket system, which concluded that tickets were being issued based on insufficient evidence and that motorists were essentially being presumed guilty.

The report showed that in FY13 DC issued 1,731,861 parking tickets producing $82,847,664 in revenue, and  666,275 ATE (Automated Traffic Enforcement, speed and red light camera) tickets in FY 2013 producing $88,832,976 in revenue.
"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 attitude behind this twist on accepted jurisprudence – that the burden of proof rests with the ticketed motorist – is also seen in a number of the key findings of this report:
MPD’s issuance of tickets even in those instances when it cannot conclusively identify the speeding vehicle ;
• MPD’s issuance of tickets when vehicle information gleaned from violation images does not match registration information linked to the license plate;
• DPW’s issuance of parking tickets even when “required” photographic evidence is not available to motorists; and
• DDOT’s failure to require TCOs to capture images of violations"
The report found that for speed cameras DC in many cases had no way to determine conclusively which vehicle was speeding if multiple vehicles were in frame:
"much of the speed camera technology currently deployed on District streets cannot indicate the lane of travel of a violating vehicle, which introduces an element of uncertainty at any location where a speed camera is monitoring two or more lanes of traffic moving away from the camera. Therefore, MPD contractors and sworn officers must decide whether a violation was committed and whichvehicle, if any, should be ticketed.  The OIG learned that in those instances when multiple vehicles appear in the violation image(s), MPD reviewers decide, with what the OIG believes is a lack of precision and certainty,(1) which vehicle was speeding and(2) whether there is sufficient distance between the violating vehicle and others in the images to justify issuance of a ticket."
In addition:
"MPD’s ATE training manual also instructs reviewers to accept violations and issue tickets in certain instances where the type of vehicle captured in the ATE images does not comport with information obtained through MPD’s search of vehicle registration databases.  The OIG believes that MPD should discontinue this practice because it leads to the issuance of erroneous tickets, which then puts a recipient of such a ticket in the challenging and frustrating position of trying to prove to a hearing examiner — without having vehicle registration information that MPD has access to or an understanding of how his or her vehicle was identified — that he or she is not the owner of the subject vehicle."

The report also questioned whether cameras were in fact being deployed for safety purposes:
"Earlier this year, DDOT delivered to the D.C. Council a study that was intended to “instill public trust that speed cameras are installed by the D.C. government to improve safety and not just increase local revenues;” however, the study created the opposite effect when it concluded that deployment of automated speed enforcement equipment was justified at every one of over 300 existing, planned, or proposed locations that were studied.  With the District’s deployment of ATE equipment expanding this year to some stop signs and crosswalks, coupled with a growing library of still images and videos of violating vehicles, the D.C. Council should consider whether the D.C. Code and DCMR thoroughly address key elements of the District’s ATE program.  Motorists deserve reasonable assurances that District entities and contractors involved in issuing parking and moving violation tickets emphasize diligence and accuracy over volume and revenue"
None of this comes as any surprise to those who have followed DC's policies towards motorists.  This is all par for the course in a city which wants to tax out of town motorists any way they can.  And the fact is that presuming motorists guilty is normal in photo-ticket hearings even in Maryland, all perfectly normal.

Additional Coverage
Inspector General Report on District website