- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

The State Department's private security guards have written illegal District of Columbia parking tickets on city streets.

The security guards look like police officers and wear badges identifying them as federal "officers," but most are unlicensed in the District and have authority only on State Department property.

Andy Laine, a spokesman for the State Department's Diplomatic Protective Service, responding to inquiries by The Washington Times, said 14 parking tickets were written by mistake. He said 34 other parking tickets have been issued on State Department property that he says are properly written.

"There were 14 tickets that were issued in error. They were supposed to call MPD [the Metropolitan Police Department to write tickets on the street]. There was a misunderstanding. They thought they had the authority," Mr. Laine said.

He said the State Department would write the D.C. Bureau of Traffic Adjudication to void those 14 tickets.

"They should not have been writing those tickets," he said. "Unfortunately, we did not know until we began looking."

Art Spitzer, legal director of the National Capital Area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned how private security guards could give parking tickets in the first place. "Who gave them ticket booklets?"

He also asked how the State Department could adjudicate any of the tickets if they are written by a security guard rather than a certified police officer or a member of the city's traffic-enforcement office.

Wanda Butler, administrator for Adjudication Services for the Department of Motor Vehicles, said city law allows some 50 agencies within the District to write parking tickets, and the State Department is one of them. She said the law allows them to write parking tickets at their facilities.

Mrs. Butler added that in exchange for using D.C. parking tickets, the agencies are required to have a process in place to prevent illegal parking tickets from being written, like those written on city streets by the State Department's guards.

"They should have a tracking process in place so someone reviews those tickets," Mrs. Butler said.

She said the DMV will honor the requests of the State Department to void the 14 tickets that Mr. Laine said were improperly written.

"We will [void the tickets], but the ideal situation is for them to be trained to know what they are doing," Mrs. Butler said.

State Department sources said security guards have been writing tickets for the past three months and have begun challenging people including tourists who photograph the State Department buildings.

"The [security guard] officers have no authority to do any of this," said a source familiar with State Department security. "They are writing tickets and hassling anyone with a camera."

The guards appear to be federal law enforcement officers, but they actually work for a private security firm called Inter-Con Security Systems Inc. Inter-Con receives about $20 million a year from the State Department to provide 300 security guards.

The use of security guards to write parking tickets was discovered during ongoing investigations by The Washington Times of security breaches at State Department facilities, including the bugging of buildings by a Russian spy.

The Times found that the security guards have two weeks of training and most are not licensed as armed security guards in the District.

Mr. Laine said his department received the books of parking tickets from the "appropriate" D.C. agency. The tickets are valid for violations on State Department property.

He originally said that all 48 of the tickets written over the last three months were on State Department property, but after he made inquiries at the request of the Times, he discovered 14 tickets had been written on 21st Street NW, near the State Department's rear loading docks.

Mr. Laine also said the security guards have begun questioning people on public streets outside the State Department who are taking photographs, but they are supposed to identify themselves and are not supposed to take any action if the photographer refuses to stop. A security guard who questioned a photographer for The Times did not identify himself as a member of the State Department's security force until asked.

"They do not have the authority to prevent people from taking pictures," Mr. Laine said. "The individual has a right to not respond or respond."

Mr. Spitzer said the security guards especially have no authority to question anyone who is in a public place whether they are taking photographs or not.

"Basically, anyone can come up to you and ask you to stand on your head, but they don't have the legal authority," Mr. Spitzer said.

Last week, a photographer for The Washington Times was questioned by one of the guards after shooting photographs from the sidewalk across 21st Street NW from the State Department's main building.

Mr. Spitzer said the guards sound as though they are threatening people with their badges although they have no authority.

"Maybe I should go over there and take some pictures," Mr. Spitzer said.

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