SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - A state program designed to shield police identities from criminals has ballooned to cover nearly 1 million vehicles and has allowed some drivers to avoid paying highway tolls and parking tickets, it was reported Saturday.
Motorists whose license plates are registered under the Confidential Records Program have their addresses concealed on state Department of Motor Vehicles records.
The Orange County Register said 996,716 vehicle license plates were registered under the program, allowing the cars' owners to avoid paying tolls because roadway operators cannot obtain their addresses to bill them.
Computerized logs for the 91 Express Lanes tollway found 14,535
unpaid trips - representing about $29,500 in unpaid tolls - by motorists with confidential plates in the past five years, the Register said. Penalties for repeat offenders could have totaled more than $5 million.
In addition, the newspaper said parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because it is too much effort to obtain the drivers' information.
Also, some police agencies routinely dismiss red-light camera citations issued to confidential plates as a courtesy or because they lack the time to find the addresses and mail citations before deadlines.
The program was enacted as a protective measure for police officers when their addresses could be obtained in public records provided by the DMV.
Over the years, the list of people eligible for the program was expanded to include judges, district attorneys, lawmakers, jail guards, park rangers, museum guards and others. Assemblyman Sandre
Swanson, D-Alameda, is sponsoring a bill that would expand the list
further to include some zoo veterinarians, animal control agency
workers and humane society shelter workers.
Critics say the act is obsolete because state law has been changed so that drivers' home addresses no longer are made public.
Supporters say the protection is even more necessary now that
private information is more available via the Internet.
"The street has become a technological freeway that is being used by everybody, so the more layers of confidentiality you can add to those who need it the better," Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
However, several agencies contacted by the Register said they would review confidentiality records for their employees. Some individuals with the plates also paid overdue tolls after being contacted by the newspaper.
Information from: The Orange County Register,
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)