D.C. police officials knew nearly a year ago about hundreds of unpaid tickets acquired by officers but did little to fix the problem, according to an internal memo.

Eric Coard, senior executive director for corporate support, wrote to Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer in January, detailing the number of outstanding tickets and urging payment. His memo was prompted by reports that Department of Public Works vehicles had outstanding notices of infractions, and he expressed concern that the police department also might be questioned about unpaid tickets.

"To avoid bad press and embarrassment, it is imperative that the department take immediate steps toward adjudicating these NOIs," or notices of infractions, Coard wrote in a memo to Ramsey and Gainer, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

At the time of the memo, the department had 638 unpaid tickets totaling $47,740. The tickets, mostly for parking infractions, remain outstanding.

"We knew we had some problems with unpaid tickets, but we couldn't tie them to the officers," Ramsey said yesterday. "Herein lies the problem."

Coard recommended using funds from the budgets of each of the delinquent units to pay the infractions.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that hundreds of D.C. police officers were driving around the city in unregistered and uninspected department cars and vans. Many of the vehicles were unregistered and uninspected because the officers had failed to pay outstanding parking tickets. The Department of Motor Vehicles does not allow vehicles to be registered if a driver has not settled accounts.

Robert Rose, the department's fleet services manager who was placed on administrative leave with pay this week after The Post reported on the vehicles, obtained a list from DMV's traffic adjudication services of all outstanding tickets on department-owned vehicles, Coard said in the memo.

After determining where each car was assigned, the seven district commanders and officials who oversee other units were given a list of unpaid tickets and were asked to fill out a form asking that the ticket be waived, the memo said. The form was to be sent to DMV "through established channels," Coard said.

"While there was some compliance, the response was less than acceptable," he wrote.

There was little response because no one could determine who was responsible for the tickets, Coard said. Some officers were switching license tags "from vehicle to vehicle in violation of departmental and traffic regulations," he said.

"The inability to affix responsibility for specific NOIs is due to the failure by some units to follow departmental orders as related to documenting vehicle use," Coard said.

Ramsey said it remains difficult to track the tickets because many date back several years and can't be traced to the officers.

"There really weren't any records kept with any degree of accuracy," he said.

Since Coard's memo, Ramsey said, action has been taken to correct the problem, including recording the vehicle each officer uses while on duty, keeping an up-to-date log and ensuring that officers fill out the necessary form when they receive a ticket.

"We're trying to put in place a new policy and start fresh," the chief said.