Municipal Parking Citation Corruption
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Many city police departments have become corrupted by a quota system. A quota is a minimum number of citations that a police officer has to make per day. Often the police department rules say that the quota is not the only way a police officer is evaluated, but if the officer does not regularly meet his quota, he is dismissed or else reassigned to some other function.
The quota puts pressure on the police officer to cite people for violations if near the end of the shift he has not yet cited the required amount. The incentive is to be unreasonable and dishonest. Parking that is borderline may not be cited early in the shift, but is cited towards the end of the shift, when being a little too far from the curb now becomes ripe for citation.
What makes this worse is that typically a parking violation is classified as a civil rather than a criminal case. In a civil case, the alleged violator lacks the legal protections that criminals have under a just rule of law. In a criminal case, one is innocent unless proven guilty. In a civil case, the receipt of a parking ticket makes one guilty unless one proves one's innocence.
In a letter, 'Those Phantom Parking Tickets,' published in the Berkeley Daily Planet of August 13-16, Charles L. Smith states that when a parking violation is a civil case, the citing officer may not be called to court for cross examination.
In my judgment, civil law and prosecution should be confined only to cases among private parties. If A sues B, that is properly a civil case, a matter between the two parties. If the government has a case against someone, that should always be a criminal matter, no matter how small, because the state acts in behalf of the public, not a particular private party. In that case, the defendant would always have legal protections against the arbitrary impositions of government.
As Smith says, with civil cases and a quota system, officers under the pressure of a quota invent citations. They can get the vehicle number and other data from their computer and communications systems. Most victims do not go to court to protest the ticket.
Citations which are questionable or fraudulent become a form of arbitrary government revenue, a random tax on parking. Cars are being cited even if the meter has not yet expired! It is like the joke about the police in a totalitarian country enforcing a curfew. They come across someone walking just before the curfew time, and one officer shoots him, explaining that by the time he would have gotten home, he would have been past the curfew!
Says Smith, and I believe him, 'The whole process is based on collecting as much money as possible.' It is time-consuming and complicated to protest the ticket, so most just pay it. The risk of citations, even when one tries to obey the law, makes parking more expensive, so there are fewer shoppers on metered streets; the shopping gets shifted to malls and other places with free parking lots. City officials then complain about the declining downtown.
Parking citations issued to fill a quota as civil cases amount to a random tax on parking. We single-taxers (and zero-taxers!) should oppose the corrupt parking citation tax, just as we oppose taxes on income, transactions, and produced wealth. Parking citations should be a criminal matter, and the quota system should be abolished. Cities should adopt modern parking-meter technology, where the amount is charged electronically. An electronic meter could vary the charge based on the usual amount of crowding, and not have any time limit. There would then be no parking fines on cars using electronic meters.
Meanwhile, those who receive wrongful parking citations should appeal and protest the tickets, because that costs the city money, and that is the only effective way to minimize this corruption. Organize a cop-watch to monitor fraudulent traffic fines. Seek to change the law to give victims legal rights, including the right to cross-examine the officer.
Traffic fines may seem like a minor matter compared to the problem of Iraq and terrorism, but if we tolerate corruption on the local and petty level, we have less reason to complain about the corruption at the national level. Getting unjustly cited is a shocking assault on our persons and our rights by government. It allows for government by thuggery rather than the rule of law. Fight back, I say, fight back!
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2004 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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