The city of Seattle will cancel and refund around 200,000 parking tickets after it was discovered that parking enforcement officers were not authorized to write them.
According to local officials, the city will suspend payments on parking tickets issued from September 1, 2021, through April 15, 2022, or will refund the fines if they were already paid. The unauthorized tickets over the seven-month time period were non-moving parking tickets and do not include traffic tickets.
The Seattle Times reported that over 100,000 tickets have already been paid, which will cost the city $4.5 million to $5 million in refunds. All tickets were dismissed on May 28 “in the interest of justice.”
That’s because a major oversight apparently occurred during a restructuring of departments following reforms sparked by the anti-police protests in 2020. As part of the move to defund police, the City Council decided to remove parking enforcement officers from the police department and transfer them to the Seattle Department of Transportation. Although the transition started in September, they were not officially granted “special commission” status to issue citations until April, when Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrel finally gave the order.
Specially commissioned officers from outside of the Seattle Police Department are allowed to perform law enforcement duties on behalf of the city.
Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, chair of the council’s transportation committee, blamed the lack of proper legislation for the error.
“[The oversight] is a surprising and serious bureaucratic breakdown that would have never happened if the legislation had been properly implemented last September,” Pederson told the Seattle Times.
The incident points to some of the risks politicians run when they try to institute police reform. “This reinforces that rearranging our public safety systems is complicated and can result in unintended consequences unless implemented with the utmost care,” Pedersen said.
Chrisanne Sapp, head of the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild, told the Times the transition between departments has been difficult.
“They led us to believe it would be a seamless transition and it’s been anything but seamless,” she said.
She added that it’s been challenging for members to get quick answers from SDOT leadership, who don’t really understand the work enforcement officers do. In fact, she wasn’t aware of the ticket cancellations until a fellow officer told her that 40 of his citations had been cleared. When she checked the tickets she’d written in the same period, she discovered they had been canceled, too.
“My initial reaction was I was dumbfounded,” she said. “I was blindsided, and I had no idea what was going on.”
Sapp believes the oversight will cause a public loss of credibility for parking enforcement officers, and could lead to more confrontations with and resistance from the public when doing their job.
“This puts my membership and my unit in a more precarious and unsafe situation,” she explained.