By early January, Washington will have in place a new five-step system for cracking down on parking and traffic violators. The system, which will feature greatly increased ticketing and towing, will be one of the most inventive, thorough and strict in the country.
The first stage of the new system took effect Oct. 23. The D.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) placed 44 newly hired civilian ticket-writers on downtown streets. Their number will soon grow to 50, and they will supplement police ticket writers. The tickets the DOT employes write are expected to bring the city an additional $14 million in net revenue a year.
The second step is scheduled for the middle of this month, when the Metropolitan Police will unveil a new alcohol van.
The van, equipped with Breathalyzer machines and a detention cell, will respond to traffic stops all around the city where an arresting officer suspects alcohol is involved. Van personnel will take over each case once they arrive, freeing arresting officers for patrol duty, sometimes five hours faster than has been the case.
Steps three, four and five are scheduled for late this year. They are:
The addition of 25 new cranes to the city's fleet, which now numbers six. The new cranes will concentrate on towing vehicles away form downtown arterial streets during rush hours. They will be manned by contract drivers, who will be paid and trained by DOT.
THe purchase of eight new "boots" and the hiring of DOT crews to apply them. Boots are from clamps attached to the front axles of cars whose owners are chronic or longstanding scofflaws. A car that has been "booted" cannot be driven.
The beginning of a new system of traffic justice. Starting in January, routine parking and moving violation cases will be heard by "administrative adjudicators," not the Superior Court judges who hear them now. Adjudicators will sit in offices, not courts, at 601 Indiana Ave. NW. Judges will still hear the most serious traffic cases, but 90 percent of their traffic caseload is expected to shift to adjudicators immediately.
The new steps represent the most serious and expensive traffic crackdown ever undertaken in the city. They also mark the first time major traffic enforcement powers and responsibilities will rest outside the police department and the courts.
John Brophy, director of the city parking office, said police and court officials were initially skeptical of his plan to let DOT run ticketing, towing and justice. "It was a 'turf' thing." Brophy said. But law enforcement officials and Brophy now say they are enthusiastic about the plan.
According to Brophy and police officials, the full plan, expected to be in place Jan. 3, will center on downtown and on areas where commuter parking bans are in effect. The plan is expected to produce the following conditions:
Any car to which four unpaid tickets have been issued "stands and excellent chance of being booted," Brophy said. Police officials acknowledge that, as a practical matter, scofflaws can now avoid booting unless they have a dozen tickets outstanding or more.
A "greatly increased chance" of getting a parking ticket if one parks "in a flagrantly illegal spot," according to Brophy. The police now cite about 3,000 violators a day, of an estimated daily citywide total of 40,000. DOT ticket-writers expect to cite only 4,400 more violators daily. "But that will be significant," Brophy said.
Special crackdowns in the five areas of downtown where illegal parking is most common: around the city court complex, on the unfinished portion of Interstate 95 north of Massachusetts Avenue and along Connecticut Avenue, L. Street and K Street. Personnel will be writing tickets in many areas of the city, however, Brophy said.
An increase from $50 to $75 in the minimum fine a motorist will face if he parks illegally along a major rush hours street and his car is towed away.
"Our whole aim is to get rush hour running smoothly in the inner city. Get 'em going and get 'em out," said Capt. Wayne A. Layfield, commander of the police traffic division.
Layfield said the immediate effect of the new program will be small.
"But there will certainly be a definite impact in January, when the cranes get out there. Towing is your whole key. You can put 1,000 tickets out there and all you're doing is hanging paper," he said.
Brophy agreed, stressing that a coordinated program is the only kind that can reduce the estimated 25 million parking violations each year in the city.
"If all we were doing was writing more tickets, the major effect would be a litter problem," he said.
According to Brophy, the DOT end of the new program will cost $8.2 million to start. All but $600.000 of that money is appropriated city funds; the rest is federal grants. The program is expected to gross $20 million in its first full year, of which $14 million will be net profit. Payment for such equipment as cranes and boots, as well as administrative and office costs, will be deferred beyond the first year, accounting for the $2.2 million differential.
Among the program's novel features will be the setting in which adjudicators will work. "We will do away with most of the formal trappings," Brophy said. "No raised benches, no robes."
Defense attorneys will still be welcome, but there will be no [WORD ILLEGIBLE] or prosecutors. Cases will be heard around a pain, office table, and "it is possible" that adjudicators will wear casual clothes, Brophy said.
Defendants will have the right to appeal an adjudicator's decision to Superior Court, but officials expect appeals to be rare. The reason is jurisdiction. The city criminal code was rewritten last year to decriminalize all parking violations and most minor moving violations.
It another major innovation under the new system, DOT will accept three major credit cards from people who want to 'bail cut' cars that have been impounded - Visa, Master Charge and central Charge.
"There was some giggling about this at first," Brophy acknowledged."But when you think about it, who has $50 in his pocket?" he asked, referring to the current towaway fine.
In addition to the nine impoundment lots the police now operate, DOT will operate three of its own - at the Soldier's and Airmen's Home in Northwest, on Brentwood Road NE and on the Georgetown waterfront. A motorist whose car is impounded can find out where to claim it by calling any police station.
"All in all, it'll definitely be noticeable, but it is not a penacea," said Brophy, of the new program. "This is just one piece of the puzzle. We want to stop the guy who parks right in front of a fireplug. But we think there will be a deterrent effect on all the others."