April 8, 2008
Jennifer Muir of The Orange County Register reports on the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ "Confidential Records Program," which was created 30 years ago to keep DMV records of police officers private from criminals. The program has since expanded to cover "hundreds of thousands of public employees – from police dispatchers to museum guards – who face little threat from the public. Their spouses and children can get the plates, too."
Muir discovered that drivers covered under the Confidential Records Program abuse the system by evading toll road charges, running red lights at intersections with red light cameras, parking illegally, and breaking other traffic laws with impunity.
Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that the drivers are "one of their own" or related to someone who is.
The Register used public records laws to obtain OCTA computer logs for the 91 Express Lanes and found 14,535 unpaid trips by motorists with confidential plates in the past five years. A Register analysis showed that was 3,722 separate vehicles, some running the toll road hundreds of times.
Among the top violators on OCTA’s list were Dwight and Michell Storay (he’s a parole agent with the Department of Corrections), with 622 violations and Lenai and Arnold Carraway (she’s an Orange County social worker), with 239 violations.
Some police officers confess that when they pull over someone with a confidential license plate they’re more likely to let them off with a warning. In most cases, one said, if an officer realizes a motorist has a confidential plate, the car won’t be pulled over at all.
"It’s an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy," said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. "Nine out of 10 times I would."
Many police departments that run red light camera programs systematically dismiss citations issued to confidential plates.
"It’s a courtesy, law enforcement to law enforcement," San Francisco Police Sgt. Tom Lee said. "We let it go."
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