The City of Seattle announced Wednesday that it is voiding and refunding over 200,000 parking tickets because officers did not have the legal authority to write them.
Approximately 100,000 unpaid tickets have been canceled and another 100,000 paid tickets will be refunded, costing the city between $4.5 million and $5 million.
The error was a result of an bureaucratic oversight in legal authority as parking enforcement officers were moved from the umbrella of the Seattle Police Department to the Seattle Department of Transportation. The move was made in response to politicians' appeasement of protesters and rioters in 2020 following the death of George Floyd.
Rioters and protestors demanded the defunding and the reduction of the footprint of the Seattle Police Department.
Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs) were housed within the Seattle Police Department (SPD) for almost 50 years. Following the 2020 riots that rocked the city, the City Council on November 23, 2020, passed Ordinance 126233 to move PEOs to the City of Seattle Communications Center.
However, on July 28, 2021, then Mayor Jenny Durkan sent legislation to the City Council to transfer PEOs to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) instead.
In August of 2021, a year after the riots, Council Bill 120148 was passed unanimously by the City Council and signed into law by Durkan, officially moving PEOs from SPD to SDOT control.
However, special commissions needed to be issued for city employees who are not under SPD’s umbrella to perform law enforcement activities on behalf of the city and the technical step was not taken.
The transition did not begin until September, and the officers were not granted "special commission" status to perform enforcement activities until April when the Harrell administration learned that the special commissions had not been properly issued and issued a directive to SPD and SDOT to complete the commissions.
As a result, tickets issued between September 1, 2021 and April 5, 2022, will be voided or refunded by a third party administrator. 100,000 ticket recipients who have not yet paid will have their ticket voided, and refunds will be issued to approximately 100,000 individuals already paid for parking tickets during the period.
Refunds are scheduled to begin the week of June 6 and residents can see if they are impacted at the city’s website.
Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, chair of the council’s transportation committee, told the Seattle Times that the disclosure was "a surprising and serious bureaucratic breakdown that would have never happened if the legislation had been properly implemented last September."
The revelation comes after last month’s announcement that the city is resuming full parking enforcement for any vehicle that has remained in one place for more than 72 hours, specifically to address the crime that accompanies RV and vehicle encampments around the city.
SDOT made the announcement that the city will return to the normal enforcement of the law which was temporarily paused in 2020 due to the pandemic.