Aged Info in the Info Age

How many city parking tickets get issued? Who knows?

A couple of years back, I found a full book of blank parking tickets on the sidewalk. My dark side said to keep it and dole out various citations of my own design to vehicles I deemed deserving. I fantasized about angry owners phoning the Knoxville Police Department questioning charges such as "Really bad parking job" or "Vehicle exceeds maximum practical size." In the end, I found a police officer and returned it. I still sort of regret that.

A lot of folks who live, work, or visit downtown have found a bright orange ticket tucked under their wiper at one time or another. I know one recidivist resident who weighed his cumulative fines against purchasing garage parking. In the end the garage won out. Even with hit-and-miss enforcement, like Las Vegas, the house comes out on top.

I understood his strategy. During my tenure at the '82 Worlds Fair, I regularly collected a week's worth of parking tickets at a time. Then I'd gleefully mail the fines in on Friday as it was considerably cheaper than other parking options in the area which, depending on the day, might run as high as $30 or $40.

While researching ticketing activity in downtown, I ran across some interesting information about the life cycle of our parking citations—though that's not really what I was after.

The combination citation/envelopes are pre-addressed to the Knoxville Police Department. And they instruct offenders to make checks payable to Knoxville Police Department. So one might reasonably assume that when one curses, fills out the check, and sends it on its way, that it is KPD who will process and deposit it.

Not so, according to Darrell DeBusk, KPD's public information officer. The tickets go directly to city court for processing. And according to DeBusk, KPD retains no current information or statistics other than the paper record of individual officers' ticket books. Thus, asking the public information officer how many parking tickets were issued last month in the CBID yielded only the repeated denial that such information is known, and that I would have to inquire with the city court.

City court is able to answer the question, sort of. Notification of tickets issued are not necessarily entered into the database as soon as they arrive, due to fluctuation in the numbers. For example, the first UT home game usually brings in a flourish of citations in comparison to an average weekday in the summer. Sometimes when the backlog of paper gets to be too much, temp workers are brought in to get things current. And sometimes, officers may delay getting the information into the system if, for example, accident reports or other charges are involved.

And despite instructions to make KPD the payee when paying fines, according to the city's code of ordinances, fines collected are paid into the city treasury and are deposited in the general fund. Why KPD is designated as recipient and payee for checks is a mystery, since it is neither.

Richard Wingate is the court administrator for Knoxville City Court. When I contacted him about getting statistics, he was as helpful as could be—which, unfortunately, turned out to be not much. It seems that the city uses a system called FullCourt to generate reports. After a few e-mails wherein I explained that I was looking to get information on traffic and parking citations downtown, he invited me to come to the court where he would instruct me on how to use the system, and that I could probably get the information I was after "in an hour or two, maybe more." He also advised that I would need to bring some floppy disks in order to record the reports.

As Mr. Wingate put it, "the Court's FullCourt software program ‘sucks.'" Apparently the reporting software is in the process of being replaced. He doesn't expect that system to be up and running for another six months. But if all goes as expected, citations will be automagically uploaded to the court as they are issued.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that KPD doesn't maintain any records of their own officers' citations. It seems to me that sort of information would be useful to review in a timely manner and understand what's actually happening on the street. But who am I to argue with a public information officer?

And so, dear reader, I am off in search of a box of obsolescent 3.5-inch floppy disks. And then I'm going to get back in touch with the court administrator (who really is being as helpful as he can be). I'll get a look at whatever steam-powered computing machines our fair city currently uses to process reports. And, assuming I can find a working computer that can still read those floppy discs, I'll let you know what I find out.

Meanwhile, I'm going to keep my eye out for another misplaced book of blank tickets. And I'm not turning it in this time. With the expected upgrade to the system, there's only a limited time for me to wreak mayhem before the city's system moves into the 21st century.