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Ticketbuster: A picture is worth a thousand words with D.C. parking tickets (Photos)

Thursday - 5/15/2014, 12:11pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- D.C. issues two million parking tickets each year, but most drivers don't realize that ticket writers often take pictures and post them online. WTOP Ticketbuster has found the parking enforcement often doesn't check these photos to catch errors before you learn about them.

For a driver who received a delinquency notice in the mail incorrectly, the picture can tell a thousand words. As a WTOP Ticketbuster investigation uncovered thousands of innocent drivers in Maryland, Virginia and DC get these notices every year.

To view Department of Public Works tickets, you can log onto a website called DPW TicPix, enter your ticket number and license plate and any photographs will pop up, including that of the license plate and any relevant parking signs.

DPW tickets will have the words, "Dept. 15" on the bottom of the ticket.

For D.C. Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Police Department Tickets, you can log onto MPD's website and enter your ticket number.

Walt Edwards of Arlington learned the value of a picture when he received his second erroneous delinquency notice in six months. DPW wrote the ticket to his license WVE, but the photograph the officer took showed the ticketed vehicle had the license plate WVE-5382.

However, Edwards still received the notice.

"It's totally absurd and it's a dereliction of duty on the part of everyone in the chain. All the way from the person who wrote the defective ticket to the DMV, who did not pull a full record to show that I own a Nissan and the ticket says an Acura," Edwards said last month.

DPW later admitted that no supervisors checked the TicPix photograph from Officer Marlon Banks before sending it to the DMV for adjudication.

"What we are doing is adding an extra piece that we are now going to have someone literally check to be sure that the tag number matches what is written on the ticket. That had not been done in the past," says DPW Director William Howland.

However, another case shows that this safeguard has still not been fully implemented.

A Manassas woman received a ticket in the mail for license plate YXN9178. Like other drivers, it was her tag number, but it listed the wrong type of vehicle and she never goes into D.C.

The DPW TicPix photograph showed the offending vehicle had license plate YKN9178.

"DPW agrees that ticket was issued in error and that the Parking Officer mistyped the license tag number. DPW is voiding the ticket," wrote Howland on May 7.

A similar error happened to Stephen Combs. In his case, the DPW officer ticketed the correct car, but the photograph showed the sign that he violated did not apply on the date of the infraction. His ticket was later dismissed.

But DPW is not the only agency that fails to inspect these photographs before submitting the ticket to the DMV for adjudication.

A Bethesda man received a ticket in the mail for parking in a bus zone in April. The MPD ticket listed his plate, 6BE0395, but also said the vehicle was a BMW convertible. He drives a Ford pickp truck.

Upon closer inspection, the MPD officer photograph showed that the tag was actually 6BE0385. Maryland officials confirmed 0395 belonged to a Ford truck, 0385 belonged to a BMW convertible.

"We do not address the validity of tickets issued by members. If you or the driver feel this was issued in error, please follow the adjudication protocol listed on the rear of the citation," says MPD Commander Jeff Brown.

Weeks later, DMV reviewed the photograph and dismissed the ticket against the Bethesda driver.

MPD refused to discuss details about their picture program, or why supervisors don't check photographs on parking tickets before sending them to DMV Adjudication.

"Since the ticket has been dismissed, we have no further comment at this time," says MPD spokeswoman Gwen Crump, who did not respond to follow-up questions about any general standard operating procedures at the agency.

MPD routinely checks photographs on speed and red-light camera tickets before issuing a ticket to a driver. The agency checks the make of the car and the license plate, then compares the pictures to the vehicle record for accuracy.

Many lawmakers agree the MPD speed and red-light camera standard should be the standard operating procedure for parking tickets too.

"They've been very good about it and very meticulous. We have to imbue [DPW] with that same ethic. The photographs are there for a reason," says D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who oversees the ticketing process.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson took it a step further. He co-introduced the Traffic Adjudication Amendment Act, which the council recently passed and sent to Mayor Vincent Gray.

"What's the point of taking a picture, if when you appeal the ticket, the government employee isn't going to look at it?" asks Mendelson.

Howland says he agrees that pictures are useful for quality control and that they should be reviewed before being sent to DMV ticket adjudication.

"Things should get better as we introduce new technology. We're rolling out mini tablets right now. Ten are in test phase. That should eliminate a lot of the issues and the tablets will deliver better pictures with our tickets," says Howland.

Bottom line: if you get a ticket, and you don't believe you're guilty, go online and find the picture. It will make the process to get the ticket dismissed much easier.

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 your case - along with documentation -- to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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