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Are Police Tricking People Into Paying 'Snitch' Tickets?

By David Goldstein

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Are police tricking people into snitching on someone who goes through a red light camera intersection? That's what some people are claiming police are doing by sending out snitch tickets.

Erin Chavez got caught by a red light camera —

But then claims she got caught by police who tricked her into confessing.

"You in essence, snitched on yourself?" I asked.

"I did snitch on myself. Yes."

Chavez got this violation notice in the mail from Corona Police because she's the registered owner of the car. With pictures and a badge number, it looked like an official ticket.

"I thought it was real."

But it's not. It's what people are calling a snitch ticket.

Because her driver's license photo shows her with long blonde hair — and the pictures behind the wheel show a woman with short dark hair — police probably couldn't identify her. That's where the snitch ticket comes in. It says you must complete this information. Asking for the driver's name and license number.

"There was some terminolgy in there where I felt like if I had not responded I would have gotten into serious trouble."

And it looks legit.

It's called Traffic Violation Notice. The real ticket says Notice Of Traffic Violation.

But legally, you don't have to answer the snitch ticket.

Erin did.

"I felt swindled. I was extremely upset that I'd essentially turned myself in when I didn't have to."

According to California law, police must positively identify the picture taken by the red light camera with someone's driver's license photo. If they can't, most departments just throw the tickets out. But some cities, like here in Corona, and Riverside, send these tickets hoping to snitch out the violator.

Matt Irving also received a snitch ticket from the Riverside police.

"I thought it was a ticket. I definitely thought it was a ticket."

The cameras caught a woman behind the wheel of his car not making a full stop before making a right on red. He doesn't want to say who it is — because he just ignored the notice.

"That's definitely sneaky and underhanded. Trying to get you to tell on someone and make it look real official."

"It's unethical," to hear traffic attorney Sherman Ellison tell it.

"Do police have the right to mandate that police snitch on another person and the answer is 'no.'"

Legally, can anything happen to the person if they ignore it?

"Legally, no."

Corona Police Sargeant John Marshall, who runs the red light program, admits the notices carry no weight.

He reviews the violations captured by the cameras —

"Some of this stuff is unbelievable."

— And says the so called snitch tickets are a way to hold people accountable.

"If people don't want to get these tickets, simply come to a complete stop at the red light and we won't have this issue at all."

But some do take issue. Like State Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto.

"My bill specifically prohibits so called snitch tickets."

His legislation would let people know their options.

"If you're going to ask someone to identify someone in the photograph you have to tell them they're not obliged to do that and that they can't be punished."

Right now at least 40 cities in California use the snitch tickets. The way to tell the difference is a real ticket will have a notice to appear...a court date and a location. The snitch tickets don't.

What's the lesson to be learned here? Don't snitch on yourself. Keep your mouth shut.

But if you want to avoid it all, just obey the law.

The following cities have snitch ticket programs.

  • Bakersfield
  • Corona
  • Daly City
  • Del Mar
  • El Cajon
  • Elk Grove
  • Emeryville
  • Encinitas
  • Escondido
  • Garden Grove
  • Gardena
  • Glendale
  • Hawthorne
  • Hayward
  • Inglewood
  • Laguna Woods
  • Loma Linda
  • Los Alamitos
  • Marysville
  • Menlo Park
  • Millbrae
  • Modesto
  • Newark
  • Oceanside
  • Poway
  • Redding
  • Riverside
  • Rocklin
  • San Jose
  • San Leandro
  • San Mateo
  • Santa Ana
  • Santa Clarita
  • Solana Beach
  • South Gate
  • South San Francisco
  • Stockton
  • Union City
  • Victorville
  • Vista
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