To the editor:
D.C. Police have reported the pandemic has driven car thefts up 33% from last year. Just hope if your car is stolen and driven into D.C., like mine was, the thief does not exceed the speed limit. Otherwise, in addition to all the conventional hassles of dealing with insurance, you may find yourself, like me, in a forced pen pal relationship with the DMV Hearing Examiner, who can operate arbitrarily and with impunity.
At the end of June, my car was stolen from our driveway in Alexandria and used in a homicide in Washington, D.C., where, sadly, a 19-year-old man was shot in the head. While driving the car to and from the murder scene, the thieves also received multiple D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles traffic camera speeding tickets, which the DMV dutifully sent me.
I thought contesting these tickets would be simple until I found out that D.C.’s budget has a fiscal dependence on fines. In 2018, D.C. issued $104.5 million in citations. And, D.C. is counting on those funds, as their budget protections, as far out as 2023, depend on collecting fines and speeding tickets. From 2016 to 2018, of the nearly 270,000 people who contested citations, more than 70% lost. Last year, almost 90% of the challenges were dismissed.
Therefore, I should not have been shocked when, after contesting the tickets three times, D.C. DMV notified me I was being given 10 days, and one last chance to challenge the tickets or I will be held liable for thousands of dollars in fines, which double every 30 days.
I already submitted copies of two D.C. police reports. One stipulates the car was reported stolen in Virginia and recovered in D.C. The other is the homicide report. The arresting police officer and homicide detective have offered to corroborate the information.
Our family has cooperated with the authorities: We have allowed the D.C. police to search the vehicle, and we have submitted to DNA tests. And D.C. is still holding the car as evidence.
Our taxpayer-funded Records Office at the Alexandria Police Department has not been helpful. On the contrary. Records personnel will not issue a copy of a police report to any resident. The only way to receive “a certificate” stating the car was stolen is to send $10 via snail mail and a self-addressed-and-stamped envelope with a request.
E-mail? Nope. Online? No system. Go in person to the APD? Nope. It’s closed because of COVID. When I explained I needed the documentation in a rush otherwise I may be held liable for thousands of dollars in fines, the Records employee replied there was no system to rush anything. I bet.
Last week we received some good news. The D.C. detective notified me an arrest had been made. Both the D.C. detective and the Virginia police officer have been fantastic at keeping us informed. I do hope that bureaucracies in D.C. and Virginia invest the same kind of energy and diligence they spend in shaking me down in supporting their frontline officers’ essential efforts to protect and serve the public.
I have also sent a copy of the letter the Commonwealth of Virginia Victim-Witness Assistance Office sent me documenting I was a victim of a grand larceny auto in Alexandria. Hopefully, that will suffice.
If D.C. DMV continues to penalize innocent people for the sake of obtaining revenue, it will drive away, no pun intended, law-abiding, decent citizens who want to live within its boundaries or tourists who want to see this beautiful city.
D.C. needs to get its act together and stop depending on speeding traps and denying contested tickets to make its budget. Meanwhile, the Virginia Police Records Department should, at a minimum, update its 1980’s snail mail system and provide its tax-paying residents with an online system that allows its residents to access the documentation they need. and are entitled to have.
-Kristina Arriaga, Alexandria