Terrific bit of investigative journalism from the OC Register finds that nearly one million cars in California owned by public officials are outfitted with special plates that make them immune to fines for traffic violations.
An Orange County Register investigation has found that the program, designed 30 years ago to protect police from criminals, has been expanded to cover hundreds of thousands of public employees – from police dispatchers to museum guards – who face little threat from the public. Their spouses and children can get the plates, too.
This has happened despite warnings from state officials that the safeguard is no longer needed because updated laws have made all DMV information confidential to the public.
The Register found that the confidential plate program shields these motorists in ways most of us can only dream about:
• Vehicles with protected license plates can run through dozens of intersections controlled by red light cameras and breeze along the 91 toll lanes with impunity.
• Parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because the process necessary to pierce the shield is too cumbersome.
• Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that the drivers are "one of their own" or related to someone who is.
Some police officers confess that when they pull over someone with a confidential license plate they're more likely to let them off with a warning. In most cases, one said, if an officer realizes a motorist has a confidential plate, the car won't be pulled over at all.
"It's an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy," said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. "Nine out of 10 times I would."