More than 200,000 parking tickets issued between September 1 and April 5 have been canceled or will be refunded by the city of Seattle, after a major error was discovered: parking officers had not been authorized to write quotes.
Approximately 100,000 paid tickets will be refunded, costing the city between $4.5 and $5 million. Another 100,000 unpaid tickets were cancelled. The massive purge was due to an oversight as parking enforcement officers moved from the Seattle Police Department to the Seattle Department of Transportation, a move spurred by the 2020 protests and intended to reduce the police footprint.
The transition began in September, but officers were not granted “special commission” status to perform enforcement activities until April. Special commissions are issued to individuals outside of the Seattle Police Department to perform law enforcement activities on behalf of the city.
Mayor Bruce Harrell ordered the commissions to be granted in April, spokesman Jamie Housen said. The city has retained the services of a third-party administrator to help reimburse those who have already paid for their tickets, Housen said.
Chrisanne Sapp, head of the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild, was made aware of the cancellations Tuesday, when an officer informed her that 40 of her citations had been erased. She checked the posts she had written during that time and discovered that many, if not all, had also been cancelled.
The reason given was the code “INJ”, which stands for “in the interest of justice”. The rejection date for each ticket was May 28.
Sapp said she had never seen anything like it. “My first reaction was that I was stunned,” she said. “I was blindsided and had no idea what was going on.”
Until last year, parking attendants were part of the Seattle Police Department, even though they weren’t police officers. As cries to reallocate police resources grew louder amid the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, the mayor and city council turned to parking enforcement as a function that could shift to a department distinct.
Parking enforcement officers lobbied for the transition to the newly created Community Safety and Communications Center, as well as 911 dispatch. But elected officials opted to transfer them to the Seattle Department of Transportation instead.
Sapp said the transition has been difficult. “They led us to believe it would be a seamless transition and it was anything but seamless,” she said. Although work is continuing, Sapp said it was difficult for members to get quick answers from SDOT leaders and they found they did not fully understand the work they were doing. were accomplishing.
As part of the transition, Sapp said the union lobbied for parking attendants to obtain special commission permits from the Seattle Police Department, which are often granted to retired officers or employees of the courts and allow for broader enforcement authority.
This only happened, she said, in April when they were told to complete their permit applications.
Sapp said she is frustrated with the surveillance and concerned about the safety of her officers, as drivers may feel greater impunity for confronting or ignoring them.
“It puts my members and my unit in a more precarious and dangerous situation,” she said.
Harrell weighed in only sparingly on the decision to move the parking enforcement to SDOT. During a Jan. 13 appearance on KIRO Newsradio’s Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin, he called SDOT an “uncomfortable place” for parking enforcement, but did not say whether he would like to see him move.
The cancellations do not appear to have impacted automated traffic cameras, which are operated by the police department. Also, tickets written in late April and May, after parking enforcement officers completed their special commission applications, were not overturned. Unpaid tickets from before September are also still active.
Parking enforcement has slowed during the pandemic and cars have been allowed to park for longer periods. But SDOT recently said it would resume full enforcement of its 72-hour rule.