- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

D.C. officials have arrested at least 15 persons for jamming, vandalizing and stealing from city parking meters.

Bill Rice, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, said the arrests are part of a joint effort with the Metropolitan Police Department, the D.C. Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to “vigorously enforce the law against people who do this kind of thing.”

The 15 arrests date back to March 10, when police officials said two contract workers with the Department of State were arrested in the 200 block of 22nd Street Northwest and charged with destruction of property. State Department officials did not return calls for comment. Others arrested in the crackdown include six students, three construction workers, two bakery workers, one elevator technician and a hotel worker.

“It’s unfair to the rest of these people who can’t get a legitimate parking space,” said Capt. Patrick Burke of the police department’s traffic services division. “We hope these arrests will be a deterrent.”

Last year, parking enforcers wrote $99 million worth of tickets, and the District collected $53 million in fines.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said most meter vandals face misdemeanor charges. He said one of the 15 persons arrested has been convicted, one is going to trial and about 10 have entered a supervised-release program. They will have their charges dropped if they complete six months without incident and meet other requirements.

Officials said the crackdown is part of a larger effort to curb vandalism on crime-plagued streets and in response to complaints by the Downtown Cluster of Congregations about broken, defaced and damaged meters. Terry Lynch, the group’s executive director, said meter vandals are only a small part of what he calls the District’s “culture of crime.”

“There certainly are people out there who intentionally break meters, but that’s just one piece of the big problem,” he said.

Mr. Rice said broken and damaged meters cost the city about $400,000 of the roughly $13.5 million taken in annually through a contract with Affiliated Computer Services State and Local Solutions, which monitors and repairs the meters. District officials have acknowledged that about 1,000 of the city’s 16,300 meters are out of service at any time. The company contracted for the job in 1998, when vandalism had damaged most of the then-40-year-old meters. Mr. Rice said the contract ends in September and whoever wins the new contract will have to provide more tamper-resistant meters.

Mr. Rice also said the introduction of new multi-space meters like the ones placed Thursday in Georgetown will help deter vandalism and thefts. The meters manage an entire block’s worth of parking. Drivers buy a ticket from the meter on the block where they want to park, then place the ticket behind their windshields. The meters also send real-time alerts to maintenance staff when they break down, or if someone tampers with them. Mr. Rice said it is illegal in the District to park at a broken meter for longer than the posted time-limit. “Even if it’s broken, you’re still liable for the time,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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