Denver City employees skip out on paying red-light, speeding tickets

9:59 PM, Jul 30, 2012   |    comments
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DENVER - A 9Wants to Know investigation has discovered hundreds of photo-speed-van and red-light-camera violation notices given to Denver city employees while driving city cars went unpaid.

A total of 607 notices went unpaid according to records from 2009 to mid-2012, released by the Denver Manager of Safety's Office.

The Denver Police Department tops the list of the city agencies with the most unpaid tickets at 458, though the police department does not require officers to pay tickets.

Public Works had 79 unpaid tickets. The Parks and Recreation department had 20. The Denver Sheriff's Office had 18. Other agencies are as follows:

• County Court - 8
• Department of Environmental Health - 6
• Denver Public Library - 5
• Denver Fire Department - 4
• District Attorney's Office - 3
• Arts and Venues (formally Theatres and Arenas) - 2
• Community Planning & Development - 2
• County Department of Human Services - 1
• Denver Art Museum - 1

"I'm angry," said Lacee Gordon who was in Denver County Court paying a ticket she received.

One of the city vehicles captured breaking the red-light rules at an intersection was a parking-attendant's vehicle. Others show pictures of garbage trucks, a sewer truck and police cars breaking the law while not responding to emergencies.

Most city agencies have a policy that requires employees to pay for red-light and photo-speed citations issued while they are driving a city vehicle.

When a city car gets captured, most departments send the notice of violation to the employee's boss. The supervisor is supposed to ask the employee to pay. Even when that happens, 9Wants to Know found supervisors don't always follow up to make sure the citation is paid.

There is no citywide policy requiring this.

That's something Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says should be reviewed.

After learning of our investigation, Hancock ordered a review of policies at each city department.

"It's important to make sure that we have a policy that is applied across the city as much as we can," he said.

The mayor hopes to have his review completed within a few weeks, he says.

Drivers are given a penalty assessment notice of $40 if their front tires are past the white line at an intersection with red-light cameras. The penalty assessment notice is $75 if the rear tires are past the white line.

A photo speed citation costs $40 but jumps to $80 in a safety zone - which includes work zones and school zones.

The Denver Police Department does not ask employees pay for red-light and photo-speed citations. Instead, when a citation is issued, the Denver Police Department opens a disciplinary case with internal affairs. Officers responding to emergency situations are excluded.

"That's a permanent record, you know, on their disciplinary record. It stays with them," Special Operations Division Commander Patrick Phelan, who oversees Traffic Operations, said.

Phelan says any disciplinary record, including red-light or photo-speed citations, can affect an officer's chances of being promoted.

He says making an officer pay the citation and opening up a disciplinary case would constitute double jeopardy. He calls the police department's policy "more severe" than what private drivers are put through when they get a citation.

Denver Police policy allows officers two warnings each year that go on their records. The first warning is oral and the second is written. When officers receive a third citation, they are required to give up a full day's pay. They do not pay the actual cost of the citation.

Phelan says being able to track an officer's driving record is important to public safety, and the disciplinary process allows the department to do this.

He says the policy makes officers better drivers.

There were 378 officers who received one citation from 2009 to mid-2012, 71 received a second citation and nine received three or more.

Denver City Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz questions the legality of the police policy.

"I was really surprised when you told me this," Faatz told 9Wants to Know investigative reporter Jace Larson.

She says all city employees should have to pay for their citations.

"I know of no language that says the police department shouldn't have to pay or that the city employees shouldn't have to pay. Unless there is legal authorization, it appears to me that the first order of business should be that the employee pays the ticket," she said.

Hancock pledged to have city drivers, who were driving city cars and should have paid in the past, pay up.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure we collect on those tickets," Hancock said.

PAYING PENALTY ASSESSMENT NOTICES

From Jan. 1 to June 30, 18,917 red-light notices of violation were issued, according to Mary Dulacki, Records Coordinator with the Denver's Office of the Manager of Safety.

There were 85,364 photo-radar notices of violation issued during the same time frame.

If a person does not pay a penalty assessment, the notice could be formally served at an additional cost to the driver. The driver can then be legally obligated to pay the cost of the citation plus the cost to serve the citation. That can be $29 or higher depending on where the driver lives.

During the same time period this year, the city collected $2,603,091.55 for photo-radar notices and $648,093.22 from red-light notices.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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