LOS ANGELES (CBS2) — A CBS2 investigative report has prompted the city of Los Angeles to refund more than $1.1 million in parking tickets mistakenly doled out to drivers and, just recently, parking officials were caught still handing out unnecessary fines.
The city issued 12,656 tickets from December 2013 through November 2014 in areas where motorists shouldn't have been cited. CBS2's David Goldstein and his investigative team used hidden cameras late last year to bring it to light.
When Goldstein presented the findings to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, he was less than thrilled: "I'm pissed!"
And Traffic Officer Sonja Miller said it made her more vigilant about the tickets she writes: "Yes, sir, that's why we check. That's why we check because we saw your story. We always check."
If you have your citation number, check this searchable database to see if you're eligible for a refund. If your citation number is here, the city says a check will be coming in the next few weeks. If you do not have a citation number, you can call 866-561-9742 with your license plate number to find out if you're getting money back.
Drivers like Katie Donahue were cited for street-cleaning violations, claiming there was no parking on certain days of the week. But on those days, those streets were listed on the city's relaxed parking enforcement website because the sweeper had been canceled — so, those tickets should never have been written.
Now, Donahue and thousands of other drivers qualify for a refund.
"You're going to get your $73 back," Goldstein told her.
"That's great. That's like getting a real fancy dinner out," the driver said.
Transportation officials say it was a communication breakdown, and the officers didn't get notified in time.
CBS2's investigation inspired the Department of Transportation to notify officers throughout the day on two-way radios, according to DOT Chief Greg Savelli.
"As soon as the notice is received, the supervisors will get it. The dispatch center will get it. They will broadcast it every 15 minutes ... during the period of time the route is canceled," Savelli said.
CBS2 again used hidden cameras to check if the new policy is working.
Over three days, the investigative team caught officers writing tickets in the relaxed parking zones all over the city.
CBS2 watched an officer issue a ticket to Tammy Sue Roberts' Hummer in a relaxed zone.
"The city said they were going to correct this whole thing, yet you got a ticket again today," Goldstein said.
Roberts replied: "Well, I'm not happy. I don't want to pay it."
And as for Miller, who said she "always checks," she was caught writing two tickets in a relaxed zone while patrolling East L.A. Another officer was doing the same thing at roughly the same time.
When asked about it, Miller said she first checked with DOT and there was no notice given on the radio like the chief had promised: "And if we don't know, that's how we're notified, on our air. We don't just say, 'OK, we're going to ignore that and write tickets.' No. We don't do that."
The mayor responded to these new findings with the same disappointment and promised there would be changes. He laid the blame on human error, even though it's been months since CBS2 first exposed the problem.
"How can people trust the city; they're still getting tickets?" Goldstein said.
"I think $1.1 million in refunds is a pretty good down payment on trust," the mayor replied.
But that's only a down payment. CBS2's recent findings have pushed the city to refund another 1,512 tickets — roughly $53,000 — issued by mistake from Nov. 15, 2014, through Jan. 22 of this year.
That brings the total to more than 14,000 tickets refunded.
DOT officials say they hope to have wifi-enabled handheld devices for their officers by May that would prevent them from writing improper tickets.
In the meantime, Miller says she'll double-check before writing any new tickets, and may even call on CBS2 to confirm.
"This is cool? You sure?" the officer asked Goldstein before writing up a ticket during a recent shift.
"As far as I know. You're the one with the badge," Goldstein said.
She replied: "No, no, no. You know more than I do because you're an investigative reporter, hey, hey."
Click here to see if you're eligible and for information on contesting your ticket.
Click here to find a list of today's relaxed parking enforcement routes.
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