Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Police are looking for "snitches"

I haven't spoken about issues that move me in law recently, but this is one, a scam coming from the last place you would expect it, your local police department. They send out fake red light camera tickets, which they call "Nominations." I call them Snitch Tickets.

Snitch Tickets are designed to closely resemble a real ticket. Both real tickets and Snitch Tickets ask the registered owner to turn-in (or snitch on) the person who was driving the car. One of the reliable differences between the two is the absence of the court information from the Snitch Tickets. If you're curious, the official format for a real ticket is on the website of the Judicial Council of California.

In some towns the police are going to great lengths to get registered owners to identify who was driving their car. In those towns, if the technicians reviewing the photos see that the pictured driver is obviously not the registered owner (gender mismatch, or great difference in age) or that the photo is too blurry to be sure of who it is, one tactic they use is to send the registered owner an official-looking notice telling him that he must identify the driver. (In the law enforcement business, they call these notices a "Nomination.")

If you have received an arm-twisting notice (a Snitch Ticket, not bearing the name and address of the Superior Court), you can either ignore it, or call their bluff.

Ignoring it: You may want to ignore it if the photo is of someone whose driver's license is at the same address at which the car is registered (see the "A Caveat" section, above), or if it is a blurry photo of you, the registered owner. The problem with ignoring the ticket is the police threat that they will place a "pending" flag on your car registration and/or driver's license files at the DMV. So, is the police threat valid, or is it a bluff? On Sept. 24, 2004, DMV Director Gutierrez replied to my May 28 letter and sent me a letter noting that DMV staff had contacted the El Cajon police department, and that "The representative [of the ECPD] stated that it is not the practice of the agency to place a law enforcement stop in the DMV database on pending red light violations." The box immediately below contains the full paragraph from the letter. In an earlier phone call, DMV staff told me that unpaid parking tickets are the only reason for which a city is permitted to flag your registration, and that only a court can flag your driver's license.

So the answer is: It's a bluff.

Still Not Convinced?

Here is a discussion that occurred in court, under oath (Hawthorne trials, Oct. 19, 2004).
Judge: "What if I loan someone my car?"
Officer: "If we know that's not you, we send a 'Nomination.' "
Judge: "Are they required to tell you who it is? If they don't?"
Officer: "There's no law saying they have to."

So far, I have had no report of any further pursuit, by the police, of people who have ignored a Snitch Ticket. I think the police have not designed a follow-up tactic because the Snitch Tickets are so successful - I estimate that 90% of recipients respond to them.

If you still are not convinced, and are worried that something might be going on at the court, you could look up the phone number of the court (it may be on the Internet), call them and ask if an action has been brought against you. Or, run it by a friend who is an attorney or knowledgable in legal matters.

My recommendation is to ignore the snitch tickets. But if you feel compelled to reply or don't want to ignore your Snitch Ticket, and the photo is of someone who the police will not be able to find by cross-indexing in their computer, you could try calling their bluff. See the box, below.

There are two different situations, depending upon whether the contract between the city and the vendor was signed before, or after, Jan. 1, 2004. A typical contact (Inglewood's) signed before then requires the city to pay RedFlex approx. $90 for each real ticket RedFlex prints and mails (whether or not the city collects any fine money).

When the police are first processing the photos and they see that the face photo is obviously not the registered owner, or that it is of such poor quality that it would probably not be accepted by a judge as proof of who the driver was, they send the registered owner a notice ("Snitch Ticket") - which the City doesn't have to pay RedFlex for. Sending you the Snitch Ticket is the police's attempt to get you to identify the driver, thus providing them that proof. Once you have filled-out the blanks on the Snitch Ticket form, the police can be pretty sure that a ticket will stick and that they will be able to recoup the $90 it will cost them to have a real one issued. So they go ahead and have RedFlex issue (print up and mail) one.

Contracts signed after Jan. 1, 2004 cannot, by law, provide for a per-ticket payment to the vendor. It has to be "flat-rate." A typical flat-rate contract (Union City's) requires the city to pay the vendor a rent of $6070 per month per camera. Even though the city is not paying for each ticket issued, their need to recoup the rent gives them a big incentive to issue more tickets that will stick.

If someone else turned you in (gave your name and address to the police who then sent you a real ticket), you may want to talk to that person, as the document they received might have been a Snitch Ticket that they could have ignored instead of turning over your data.
Of course, it might have been a real ticket that they received, in which case they had little choice - they would have to appear in court and tell the judge "It's not me," if they didn't turn someone in.
But if you were driving a "company car" or a rental, it is likely that what the fleet manager received was a Snitch Ticket, not a real one. You could try to teach the fleet manager how to tell the difference.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the owner of the car (by law?) has to identify the driver of the vehicle in case of a red light
violation ticket and if the owner wasn't the driver at the time of the incident?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was driving a rental car in city of Hawthrone and received a snitch ticket asking to identify the owner . I do not live in the state of CA. Should I ignore the ticket

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