- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The D.C. Department of Public Works isn't pulling its weight when it comes to removing junked cars from streets and alleys throughout the District, according to a report issued today by the city's inspector general.
Officials working for DPW's Abandoned and Junked Vehicles Division have repeatedly inflated their records of removing junked cars within 10 days of an initial complaint to achieve a "scorecard performance goal" set by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the report shows.
The report culminates a three-month inspection performed by the office of D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox from April to June of 2001. It outlines a host of inadequacies at DPW, including poorly operating communications equipment and a towing fleet so old it is beyond repair.
DPW officials claimed in their 2002 budget plan that the goal of removing cars within 10 days had been met. But the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, indicates that between January 1999 and April 2001 the removal period averaged 17 days.
"In fact, in 1999 [alone], the average was 19 days," the report states. The Times first reported the record fixing in June 2001 when the Office of the D.C. Auditor found that DPW officials were lying about meeting the mayor's goals.
"The Department of Public Works has been extremely cooperative in working with us on this inspection," said Gloria Johnson, a spokeswoman for the inspector general.
During the year since the inspection, DPW's Parking Services Administration "has almost completely been reworked and we're working to tackle the problem, particularly of abandoned vehicles," DPW spokeswoman Mary Myers said. "The report is important because it provides a benchmark to begin improvements."
She added that, in the past year, DPW has repositioned its abandoned-vehicle staff and purchased a new fleet of 25 tow trucks.
But police officials in some sections of the District yesterday said there are still "hundreds of junked cars" sitting on streets and in alleys in certain neighborhoods and some of them have been waiting to be towed for more than 90 days. "If they say they're towing cars within 17 days, I don't know what parts of the city that's occurring in, [because] it's not occurring over here," 7th District Police Cmdr. William Robinson said.
"In every community where you find these cars, you find drug activity flourishing because the drug dealers use the cars to stash their drugs and weapons in," he said. "In other situations, kids or other individuals set these cars on fire that's dire because you don't know if the car has gas in it."
Cmdr. Robinson said if one of his officers sees a car sitting in the same spot for several weeks, the officer is expected to report it to DPW, which then is supposed to send an investigator to determine whether the car has been abandoned.
He added that it's a "regular sight" in the 7th District east of the Anacostia River to see the shell of a car that's been "picked apart or stripped."
Mrs. Myers said she has "absolutely no knowledge of cars that have been sitting anywhere for 90 days."
"The abandoned and junked vehicles have been a persistent problem in the District, as well as other areas," she said. "The greatest stride we've been able to make is creating a centralized mission-control room during the last year."
Claims of a large number of abandoned vehicles littering the 7th District may stem from the fact that tow-truck drivers working with the DPW towing fleet feel unsafe entering "dangerous neighborhoods" to remove the junked cars.
The inspector general's report cites interviews with drivers who felt "unprotected when accompanying police officers to remove vehicles in which drugs might be hidden."
"Metropolitan Police Department officers wear bulletproof vests for protection, but [drivers in the towing fleet] have not been able to get any protective gear," the report states.
Further, the report cites interviews with DPW's Parking Control Branch (PCB) officials, who complained that the "hand-held radios do not maintain a battery charge for an entire tour of duty, have frequent transmission interruptions, and do not work in certain areas of the city."


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