If you dream of never paying another traffic ticket for the rest of your life, become a government employee in California. The OC Register reports that, thanks to a long obsolete program, hundreds of thousands of drivers in California can run red lights, drive down toll lanes without paying, and park illegally—with total impunity.
Those drivers have special license plates that were introduced 30 years ago to ensure police anonymity and protection; cars bearing them are registered without any home address appearing on DMV records. They eventually became unnecessary once laws were passed making all DMV information confidential. But the plates have since become a widespread perk of government employment: hundreds of thousands of judges, district attorneys, jail guards, National Park Service rangers, city council members, city attorneys, lawmakers, and other officials who face little threat of being targeted by criminals now enjoy the privilege:
“They’ve exempted themselves from the rules they’re enforcing,” said Chad Dornsife, director of the Best Highway Safety Practices Institute. “They know it, is what’s really sick about this. This isn’t some surprise that when the camera comes out they don’t have to worry about it.”…
“It’s a courtesy, law enforcement to law enforcement,” San Francisco Police Sgt. Tom Lee said. “We let it go.”
The plates have sometimes served as a perk negotiated by unions for members:
In some cases the secret plates have been negotiated as part of a labor contract. For example, museum security officers were added as part of an employment agreement with the state’s public safety union in 2001.
Officials can pass the plates to spouses and children, keep them when they retire, and can even retain them for three years after switching to private sector work. And government oversight is so ineffectual that protected plates have been obtained by people with no connection whatsoever to government employment. One woman with the plates was found not to be a government employee nor related to one. She committed 411 violations without penalty.
It seems that in blue California, some people are more equal than others. Our guess is that similar shenanigans are taking place in other states, red as well as blue. Journalists should be on the lookout for routine abuses of power like this. If not exposed and kept in check, the culture of entitlement behind them will grow, feeding higher level corruption.
[Image of California license plate courtesy of Shutterstock]