Audit: D.C. Traffic Tickets Often Backed By Shoddy Evidence

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A new audit from the District of Columbia inspector general on local traffic tickets shows that agencies really do prioritize raising revenue instead of increasing safety, The Washington Post reports.

Interim inspector general Blanche L. Bruce focused on three specific agencies permitted to issue traffic tickets. For 2013, these agencies issued a total of 1,731,861 parking tickets, bringing in $82,847,664 million dollars of revenue.

The reason for the effectiveness of revenue collection was brought up by a senior District official who submitted a comment to the office of the inspector general team. “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 anonymous official said.

Not only are you guilty until proven innocent, but the evidence even indicating that you may be guilty is shoddy, the report notes. The Metropolitan Police Department issues tickets even when it cannot fully identify the correct car using its speed cameras, which automatically issue tickets even when the license plate and the car it’s supposed to belong to do not match.  Human reviewers performed poorly and inconsistently on the same task, as well. And even in-person parking ticket issuers often failed to take the required photograph, in order to provide evidence of the violation.

“The reality is that the District often issues speeding tickets without conclusive identification of the violating vehicle,” the inspector general said.

In effect, the 115-page report gives speeders and dangerous drivers the ammunition they need to fight off legitimate tickets, since the procedures for issuing tickets in general have been thrown into serious disrepute.

But the report wasn’t without its critics, with D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier labeling the findings as “sensationalist,” saying that the point of the program is to modify driver behavior, and modification is worth it if more lives can be saved.

Erroneous tickets and poor training manuals make it easy to issue tickets and difficult to fight them.

“There are essentially no statutory restrictions on the District’s burgeoning network of speed, red light, and pedestrian safety enforcement cameras,” the report notes. “Other jurisdictions have imposed specific limits on the numbers and uses of cameras, and even the hours of the day during which they may be in operation.”

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