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City’s parking bureau takes heat at hearing

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A City Council hearing on proposed legislation to require parking ticket agents to take photographs erupted into some impassioned exchanges last Thursday with two councilmen suggesting the present system undermines the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Criticism of the Parking Violations Bureau set off repeated rounds of applause from spectators who filled the committee room of City Hall.

The Council Transportation Committee heard testimony on four proposed laws, including Intro. 886A, which would require parking ticket agents to take photographs as part of the ticket process.

Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), author of the proposed law, said “we need tomake sure parking tickets are given out judiciously and when an innocent person is issued a ticket, that thedecks are not stacked against them when they try to fight it.”

Susan Petito, assistant commissioner of the Police Department Intergovernmental affairs, objected vehemently.

“By far, the most important reason not to enact this bill is the tremendous damage it would do to the validity of all parking summonses issued not only by our traffic enforcement agents but also by police officers and enforcement personnel of other agencies,” Petito said.

“This bill carries with it an underlying assumption that the prima-facie case established by issuance of the summons itself and the sworn affirmation of its truth by the issuing officer is insufficie­nt.”

Besides, she said,it would cost $60 million over the next five to seven years to implement the photo rules.

Petito said the proposal legislation reflects “a lack of confidence in our integrity.”

“It does not,” Vacca shot back.

“We are not questioning the integrity of traffic enforcement officials,” Vacca said “But the issuance of traffic tickets has risen by more than 42 percent since 2002. Parking tickets were not intended to raise money for the city.

Vacca said the revenue raised by parking tickets is going to approach $1 billion this year.

“This system now amounts to a person being guilty unless he or she can prove not guilty,” he said, adding that he believed the cost of including photos to the PVB system would amount to no more than $25 million.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council Transportation Committee, said: “This system is inherently unfair and simply cannot stand. It is the city’s responsibility to properly equip the traffic agents so that the city can make its case about a violation. It is the city’s responsibility to prove that a ticket recipient is guilty rather than to presumeguilt and displace the onus upon theticket recipient to prove innocence.”

Liu said that “unless the accused providesirrefutable evidence of innocence, thejudge has no choice but to find guilt %u2014 guilt often based on nothing more than the sworn affidavit of the issuing agent.”

Vacca said Chicago now includes photos in its parking violations department and the new system had resulted in a decrease in numbers of motorist challenges to tickets.

The Transportation Committee also heard testimony on:

%u2022 Intro. 901 to require the city Department of Transportation to reserve 10 spaces, or 10 percent, of all spaces of city-owned parking facilities for car -sharing programs.

%u2022 Intro. 980, which would require the DOT to provide parking for motorcycles.

%u2022 Intro. 1017 requiring the DOT to post notice in the area and on its Web site of any changes in parking restrictions, permanent or temporary ones, a week in advance of effective dates.

The Council Transportation will soon vote on the four bills and if approved they will face final passage into law by the full Council.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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