4/5/2008California: Government Plates Immune from Tolls, Photo Tickets
Lawmakers and police in California do not have to pay tolls or photo tickets when using secret government license plates.
Nearly one million special government license plates have been issued in the state of California giving law enforcement, judges, district attorneys, politicians and their friends immunity from photo ticketing and tolls. According to an expose published yesterday in the Orange County Register newspaper, the Confidential Records Program has handed out a total of 996,716 protected plates to 1800 state and local agencies. These plates keep the identity of the vehicle owner out of the computerized databases that track ordinary motorists. This protection ensures that private red light camera companies and collection agencies for parking tickets toll road violations have no idea where to mail a ticket for nonpayment.
In 1978, the Confidential Records Program was introduced to protect vulnerable police officers who faced criminal threats. It has since become a perk handed out to anyone with the right connections to lawmakers or police. In 2001, for example, museum guards won the right to the plates in their union contract. Anyone driving with such a plate can also expect leniency from traffic police who will, after looking up a special plate, often release a speeder as a "professional courtesy" because having such a plate signals the driver is "connected."
The Register found that on the 91 Express Lane toll road alone, special plate holders have skipped out on $5 million in tolls and penalties because the plateholders know they cannot be caught. The top violators include prison guard Dwight Storay, social worker Lenai Carraway, and Chino Police dispatcher Susie Stephen. All denied the charges or refused comment to the Register.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles has shielded the program from further scrutiny by refusing to provide a more specific list of plateholders under the Freedom of Information laws. It demanded the Register pay $8442 for a simple list of the number of license plates issued to each participating government agency.
State Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Alameda) has introduced legislation to expand the confidential plates to dog catchers, zoo veterinarians, firefighters and code enforcement employees after being asked to do so by the American Federation of County Municipal Employees.