Stolen tags, even after reported to police, rack up tickets for innocent drivers

Speed cameras are not linked to stolen vehicle databases, officials say.
Speed cameras are not linked to stolen vehicle databases, officials say. (Raphael Talisman)
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By Daniel Leaderman
The Gazette
Thursday, February 3, 2011

For Carlo Parcelli, having his license plates stolen was bad enough. But soon he was receiving tickets for vehicular violations he hadn't committed.

Because of speed and red-light cameras, victims of theft can face the repeated inconvenience of contesting traffic citations even after they file a police report.

"It's like I have to do my own police work," Parcelli said.

Parcelli, a former bookstore owner who now sells books via the Internet from his Hyattsville home, said he noticed the license plates from his Honda Accord were missing Dec. 30. He reported it to the Hyattsville police that day and the following week received new plates from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

Since then, he has received two citations for violations he could not have committed. The citations, dated Jan. 3 and Jan. 12, are from the Mount Rainier Police Department, which has a speed camera on Rhode Island Avenue. The citations show a Honda bearing the stolen tags.

For each citation, Parcelli had to take a copy of the police report he filed in Hyattsville to the Mount Rainier Police Department to have them voided.

Mount Rainier Police Chief Michael Scott said current speed camera technology leaves people facing a situation like Parcelli's with no alternative but to challenge each citation received.

"We haven't reached a point in the technology yet where we can link the speed cameras to the . . . stolen vehicle databases," Scott said. "We void those citations out, that's not a problem. . . . It may be a hassle for the owner, but unfortunately, that's what we have at the present time."

At least two people examine citations before they are sent out, Scott said. A technician from the vendor that operates the cameras removes any citations that can't be issued, such as those where the license plate number cannot be identified. Then a Mount Rainier police officer examines the remaining citations to verify the car's speed warrants a violation.

However, with the city issuing about 400 citations daily, Scott said, the department doesn't have the time or resources to check every ticket against the stolen vehicle database.

Scott added that voiding violations because of stolen tags is not common.

"If we got 10 in a year, that would be high," Scott said.

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