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Traffic enforcement paid off in the 2013 fiscal year for the District, with parking and automated generating $171,680,640 for the city. But according to a new report from the District’s Office of the Inspector General, many of those tickets were issued in a confusing environment where drivers are often considered guilty until they can prove their innocence.

The investigation, which ran from August 2013 to April 2014, covers the tickets issued by the Department of Public Works, the Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Police Department, as well as from red light, speeding, and safety cameras administered by MPD.

The report covers a wide variety of dysfunction, from MPD changing its rules on how to ticket speeding cars when multiple cars are caught in a camera picture to DPW parking enforcement officers failing to take enough pictures to prove violations.

According to OIG, the inconsistent rules and missing pictures make it harder for drivers to challenge erroneous tickets. One unnamed person described as a “senior District official” describes one of the “beauties” of parking enforcement being that “you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent.”

“Public frustration with a system that imposes monetary penalties unless one is able to prove himself or herself innocent is understandable,” the report reads.

Maybe the best example of confusion in the report comes when investigators asked DDOT ticket issuers whether drivers can park at broken meters. One said drivers have to pay to park through the Parkmobile phone app; another said parking at a broken meter was fine as long as the driver didn’t exceed the limit for the spot. Still another DDOT employee interviewed by OIG thought that drivers have to report the broken meter to 311, then leave a note on their dashboard proving that they had called.

In fairness to DDOT, investigators note that they couldn’t find an answer in District law to whether drivers can park at meters. But then, maybe the confusion isn’t accidental.

“Skeptical members of the public might believe that the District’s failure to inform them on this subject is intentional: without clear criteria of the District’s ticketing policy, a ticketed motorist is unable to prove that DDOT enforcement officers failed to follow proper procedure,” the report speculates.

DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders declined to comment on the report because his agency is still reviewing it. DPW and MPD didn’t respond to LL’s requests for comment.

Photo by Dcmetroblogger used under a Creative Commons license