WASHINGTON — The Metropolitan Police Department amended part of its ticketing policy after issues were identified by the Inspector General during an investigation criticized a practice that “led to erroneous ticketing.”
The issue is known as a make-model mismatch, which is when the type of car in a speed or red-light camera ticket does not match the car in the DMV record.
In D.C., MPD policy was to issue the ticket to whoever owns the license plate, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General.
An example in the MPD’s training guide shows a ticket for a Lexus, then a Virginia DMV profile that shows the same license plates belonging to a Ford.
“If the vehicle tags do not match as seen here, PLEASE APPROVE,” the manual instructs reviewers, including the capital letters. “The owner may have swapped tags. These are okay to issue.” it reads.
However, the inspector general’s report points out while some reviews at MPD follow this advice, others disregard it and void the ticket automatically.
“Issuing a ticket when the violating vehicle’s information does not match registration database search results leads to the issuance of erroneous tickets… The onus in these instances should be on the District — to make issued tickets irrefutable — not on vehicle owners to prove how the District erred when it issued the tickets,” the report states.
But Patrick Grogan, of Columbia, Maryland, has dealt with incorrect speed camera tickets form the District and remains suspicious of the program.
“If the camera is triggered, they don’t care. They’re going to send you a ticket and let you deal with it. They know for every person like me, there are 10 others who would rather just pay it rather than fight,” he says.
The report recommends that all MPD reviewers void a ticket when the vehicle make and model in the images don’t match the make and model in the DMV records.
D.C. City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson agrees with this recommendation.
“If I get a ticket and I go to adjudication and show that it was a Ford and I drive a Chevy, the ticket is going to be dismissed. Rather than making me go through that, the ticket shouldn’t be issued,” says Mendelson.
In its response to the IG’s report, MPD writes.
“In issuing citations for mismatched tags, the experience of MPD officers and program staff has been that vehicle owners may switch their vehicle tags from one vehicle to another, often to avoid the consequences of driving an unregistered vehicle,” police write.
The concern does have some legitimacy. Sources in Maryland have told WTOP that people sometimes trade plates with other people or have several plates that they rotate on and off vehicles to avoid paying tickets and facing consequences to their registration.
However, there are also other plausible explanations that other experts have offered to WTOP to explain the mismatch.
For example, if someone stole the plates then put them on another car and took a joyride. Even if the owner reported the plates stolen to police and the DMV, such a flag would not necessarily pop up from a routine speed or red- light camera ticket.
Another explanation is that the review misread the state on the license plate. Several states have similar looking plates and searching the wrong state would trigger such an error.
Therefore, most Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions do not issue speed or red- light camera tickets under similar circumstances. If there is a mismatch, agencies like the State Highway Administration and the various counties will either research the mismatch more deeply, or automatically void the ticket.
MPD released the following statement which was also released to the Inspector General: MPD will amend its ATE policy to require that when an image captures a vehicle with tags, make and model that do not match the information in the vehicle registration database, it shall be subject to a second level of review before a citation is issued to the vehicle owner. During the second level of review, staff will seek to determine the reason for the mismatch. If the cause of the mismatch can be identified and corrected (such as, for example, an erroneous recording of the tags or the vehicle’s make or model, or the tags belong to the same owner as vehicle in the image), the citation will be issued. However, if the cause of the mismatch cannot be identified, then the citation will be dismissed by ATE program staff and not issued to the vehicle owner.
This story has been modified to reflect that the Metropolitan Police Department initiated the change in dealing with make-model mismatches before the final IG’s report was released.
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