Los Angeles Department of Transportation officers hand out as many as 3 million parking tickets a year, generating more than $162 million in revenue for the city. But how many of them are given in error by officers feeling intense pressure to perform?
One woman who claims she got an unfair ticket in Tarzana turned to I-Team consumer investigator Randy Mac for help.
The citation was written by a parking enforcement officer while there was still time on the meter, without any explanation to the driver who was standing there, pleading her case.
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Ronit Katalan told the I-Team it happened as she left a doctor's appointment, and spotted the officer near her car.
"So I was running downstairs, telling him, 'I'm coming, I'm coming! Don't write me a ticket,'" she said.
But the officer had already started writing a citation. So Katalan put her son in the car and as she glanced back she realized the meter was still green.
Katalan used her phone to snap pictures as proof.
"[He] didn't apologize, wasn't remorseful," she said.
Katalan said the officer accused her of feeding the meter as he was writing the ticket, and even wrote on the citation, "funds added at end of cite."
The I-Team took her complaint to the Department of Transportation, and got immediate results.
"It's clear: the time from the computer tells us [Katalan] still had time [on the meter] ... so we dismissed the ticket," said DOT Chief Greg Savelli.
Savelli said his review of records for the meter also indicates Katalan hadn't added any money while receiving the citation. There were other errors on the ticket as well: the officer mistakenly wrote the year as 2016; the time noted on the citation, which was apparently based on his wristwatch, was also wrong.
Katalan's ticket was dismissed, but the question remains: why was she cited in the first place?
"The officer doesn't stop unless there are flashing red lights," Savelli told the I-Team. "He must have seen red lights to stop."
Asked if the officer wasn't able to determine whether it was a green light or whether it was a red light, Savelli said "We don't know because there is no electronic way to back that up."
Retired LADOT parking enforcement officer Larry Randolph said there is pressure on officers to write citations, even though ticket "quotas" are illegal.
"I know I felt the pressure, I felt the pressure even in my last few years on the job," said Randolph, who left the DOT after 24 years on the job.
The average officer issues about four tickets an hour. On an overtime basis it was an average of eight citations an hour.
Randolph said that if you aren't meeting standards, you'll hear about it.
Savelli said the LADOT staff's mission is not about generating hundreds of millions in revenue, though his office currently has 550 staffed officers and another 100 part time. Instead, he says it's about individual job accountability.
"Our job is to keep traffic and parking moving so everybody can access it," Savelli said.
Savelli said if concerns are raised about citation officer performance, LADOT can surveil them electronically through GPS or physical surveillance.
Katalan wonders if anyone is watching the officer who cited her.
"How many more people have gotten a ticket, not knowing that their meter didn't expire before [the officer] started writing the ticket?" Katalan said.
LADOT officials said about 5 percent of citations they write are challenged either by administrative review or in court. About 2 percent of all tickets written are found to be invalid.
Department officials said they are taking steps to help drivers avoid tickets - including a new app that lets you refill your meter with a smartphone app.
For information on where the "LA Express Park" app can be used, you can visit this website.