Los Angeles

LA's Parking Ticket Deadbeats Outsmart the Smart Boot

The I-Team investigates LA's new attempt to collect unpaid tickets

Cities like Los Angeles are deploying a new weapon to force people to pay parking tickets: a newer, lighter "boot" called the Smart Boot.

When an LA Parking Enforcement officer boots a car, the wheels are locked up and owner technically can't drive it again until they call a toll-free number and pay all their outstanding tickets. 

But the NBC4 I-Team has found a handful of drivers are finding ways to outsmart the Smart Boot.

"They can be cut, they can be destroyed," LA Department of Transportation (LADOT) Sgt. Mark Bivens told the I-Team.

A small percentage of drivers who've been booted have found ways to discard the boot and avoid paying their tickets. The I-Team obtained video of a tire, with the boot still on it, that a driver took off his car and discarded in a nearby tow truck yard. The car was booted on Wall Street in downtown LA. The driver simply put a new tire on the car and drove off, cheaper than paying the $939 he owes the city for five tickets.

"There isn't a boot on the market that's 100 percent infallible," says LADOT's Sgt. Bivens. 

It's illegal to not pay outstanding parking tickets, according to LADOT. Still, parking tickets deadbeats now owe the city of LA $21 million in unpaid tickets from the last five years. That money could be used to fill 1 million potholes or hire 300 new city firefighters.

"When somebody isn't paying their ticket, they're actually taking money away from police, from fire, from street paving," LA City Controller Ron Galperin told NBC4.

Galperin said there are numerous ways the city could do a better job of collecting unpaid tickets, such as lowering the late fees on unpaid tickets.

LADOT thinks the threat of getting booted will now prompt a lot of drivers to pay their tickets. The new Smart Boot is lighter and easier for officers to use than the clunky, older "Denver Boot," which the city stopped using in 2009.

And, that appears to be the case with George Martinez, who the I-Team discovered last month was the likely King of Unpaid Tickets. An I-Team analysis of all unpaid tickets in LA found Martinez had 118 outstanding tickets, and owed the city $22,182. 

"It's not something I'm proud of," Martinez told the I-Team.

After being featured in the I-Team's report last month on parking ticket deadbeats, Martinez came forward and paid the city for all 118 tickets. He told NBC4 he was fearful officers would boot his vehicles.

The city's Smart Boot pilot program is beginning to pay off, at least in a small way. Since the city began using the boot on July 26, LADOT officers have booted at least 442 cars, and collected payment on 1247 unpaid tickets from the last five years, totaling more than $179,000. A car is only booted if it has five or more unpaid tickets. LADOT is hopeful the pilot program will eventually became permanent.

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