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Ticketing errors cost D.C. more than $4m

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Photo - A D.C. police officer writes a traffic ticket. (Examiner file photo)
A D.C. police officer writes a traffic ticket. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District voided 31,602 parking and traffic citations because of procedural blunders and other mistakes by its employees, costing D.C. more than $4.1 million in a year, the city's inspector general has found.

"The District lost the opportunity to collect revenue of approximately $4.1 million," Inspector General Charles Willoughby's office wrote of the city's performance in 2010. "We consider these dismissals to be preventable in most instances."

Many dismissals stemmed from errors on the citations themselves.

Make mess
The District lost nearly $375,000 in a year because its employees didn't note the makes of vehicles they were ticketing. The city dismissed 3,676 citations because of the repeated mistakes.

Illegible writing on tickets left D.C. without $54,645, while missing or incorrect information on other tickets cost the city more than $721,000 in lost fines and penalties.

Nearly 12,000 of the cancellations came after the ticketing officers failed to show up for hearings. Those absences cost the District $2.1 million in fines and penalties, investigators said.

Another 843 tickets -- and $93,712 in revenue -- essentially disappeared because the tickets weren't submitted for hearings, while about $1 million never entered the District's coffers because officials were late in submitting notices of infraction.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh blasted the agencies responsible for the errors.

"It's completely preventable and completely unacceptable," Cheh said. "Even if we got half of that, that's $2 million that could be put to some needed use in the city. There are a lot of little needs that we have. If you could put $100,000 here or $500,000 here, there are real needs that people have that this money could go to."

Though he was not at the helm when the wave of ticket dismissals occurred, Mayor Vincent Gray vowed to improve the city's procedures to avoid losing millions more in the future.

"Obviously, we want to be able to capture the revenue that should be rightfully coming to the District of Columbia," Gray said. "We'll ask our directors to take a look at the report, and, as we always do with these [inspector general] reports, try to implement the recommendations."

City investigators blamed the deficiencies on improper training programs and poor communication between the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, which collects fines from tickets and handles appeals, and the agencies that issue the citations.

"It's part of their job not to just paper cars all over the city, but to do it correctly," said Cheh, who added that she wants to explore whether District agencies consider individual employees' ticket dismissal rates as a part of their regular evaluations. "I don't want to be back here in a year and see another $4 million down the drain."

The investigators' suggestions included overhauling DMV's system of reporting ticket dismissals to other agencies and working with those departments to improve scheduling for hearings.

DMV began "an effort to streamline" its reports to law enforcement partners in recent weeks, the agency said in a letter to Willoughby's office.

Even with the absent $4 million, the District's ticketing programs were robust and lucrative in 2010. According to city records, the District took in more than $126 million in fines and forfeitures that year, though not all of them were related to traffic offenses.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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