Policing for profit

In 2014, after the killing of 19-year-old Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement demanded (in vain) that the police officer who shot him be charged with murder. The media descended on the town and the systemic racism that prevailed there was exposed. Typical was the CNN piece called “Policing for Profit: How Ferguson’s fines violated rights of African Americans.” The reporters were shocked to discover that extracting fines from the poor, especially in the form of traffic tickets, was how the city met its expenses.

The rip-off of Alamedans by our Public Works Department is a small thing compared to the rip-off of the people of Ferguson, and in my case there’s no racial angle; I’m a white male. But in both situations, a city is extorting money from its residents.

In response to COVID-19, Alameda created space for outdoor dining on Webster Street (Park Street, too) by reducing traffic lanes and creating new parking spots on the inner lanes of the street. White lines were painted to designate the new parking area. Unbeknownst to me, vertical stripes meant “no parking.” So, on a recent Saturday morning, I found a woman in uniform writing a ticket for my old Volvo when I returned from the farmers market.

The officer was chatting with someone and hadn’t finished entering my license plate number into a handheld device. “Here I am,” I announced. I explained that I thought I had parked legally and asked her if she could “please tear up the ticket.” I asked again, politely, if it was in her power not to give me a ticket. (My car is an ‘85 Volvo and I’m an 80-year-old man.) She shocked me by saying, “I could but I’m not going to.” She handed me the citation and said it would explain how to appeal online.

The address, to which you’re supposed to mail in payment, is “City of Alameda, PO Box 11113, San Jose, Ca 95103.” (I thought the City of Alameda was in Alameda.)

The ticket was $65. That’s a lot of money for people living on a small pension and social security like me and my wife.

Going online to appeal, I landed on a site run by PTicket.com. You have to create an account, which takes time and means sharing your credit card info. The PTicket.com site informed me I had two weeks to pay, after which the fine would go up to $115!

The site also said, “The following are not valid reasons for contesting and will cause the request to be removed from the appeal process. You will then be responsible for any late fees incurred.”

In case that didn’t sink in, the message was repeated in two bullet points:
• To extend payment is not a valid reason for contesting.
• Not being able to afford to pay the citation/ticket is not a valid reason for contesting.

I wrote out my appeal and after filing it, got this return email from PTicket.com:

“Due to a technical issue we’re currently working to resolve, you may not receive a notification email when your dispute is completed. Please log into your account in order to check the status of your dispute and view the Investigation Results once completed. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Does PTicket.com really conduct an investigation? Doesn’t the city of Alameda have clerical workers who can process parking tickets? What percentage of my payment will PTicket.com rake off?

When and how did PTicket.com get involved in this transaction? Doesn’t the city of Alameda have clerical workers who can process parking tickets?

I’ve lived in this city for more than 20 years, and still love it, but slightly less than I used to.

— Fred Gardner