Schaumburg ticketing Woodfield shoppers with expired license plates
Now that Illinois car owners are no longer mailed reminders from Secretary of State Jesse White's office that their license plate stickers are about to expire, Schaumburg police are taking advantage of the communication breakdown and reminding shoppers with $50 tickets.
"I'm grateful for the reminder, but I'm not $50 grateful," said Matt Jones, a Peoria resident whose wife's car received a ticket in January while parked at Woodfield Mall with a license plate sticker that expired at the end of December. "I got it re-registered the next day."
According to a Daily Herald investigation, Jones was one of 816 people whose cars were ticketed in January by Schaumburg police for violating the village's ordinance prohibiting parking "in a public parking area or public street, highway or roadway if the vehicle does not display a current annual registration sticker."
That's a 23 percent increase in the number of cars ticketed compared to January 2015, according to police records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Schaumburg police were asked to provide the location where each of these tickets was issued between December 2014 and January 2016, but they responded that the volume of tickets administered for that violation -- 8,730 during that time -- would make it an arduous task. However, police said the majority of tickets were issued at Woodfield Mall.
In 2015, the village received $265,760 in fines from tickets for this offense. Of that, $50,450 of it came from tickets issued in December, according to the village. Tickets in December were up 56 percent from the same month in 2014, according to police records.
The secretary of state's office stopped sending reminders in October.
In a bit of bureaucratic serendipity, the fine for the parking violation went up to $50 from $40 in November, just after the state's reminders ceased. But village officials said that hike was part of an overall increase for ordinance violations and not meant to take advantage of an increase in expired plate stickers.
"We didn't put any more focus on it," said Police Chief James Lamkin. "We came to realize, like everyone else when the (secretary of state's) notices weren't going out, we were seeing an increase in tickets. Once we realized this, we put measures in place to allow longer grace periods."
The village also is allowing ticketed motorists to contest the violation and avoid payment by showing proof of registration. But that option does not appear on the ticket and village officials said the only way anyone would know about a reprieve is to call and ask how to contest the ticket.
After police officials began noticing the spike in tickets, Lamkin said the department's auxiliary officers who issue the tickets were told to give drivers a break for tags that were expired by "a couple weeks." Later, he raised it to a month.
Now, Lamkin said, officers aren't supposed to be ticketing anyone whose license plates have been expired for less than two months.
"I guess I'm happy for those people who don't get this $50 ticket," Jones said. "But why are they even ticketing instead of warning us? This is a revenue-generating scheme."
Lamkin admitted officers who see an expired tag that's within the two-month grace period are skipping the ticket but not going the extra step of warning the driver.
Asked to explain why cars should be ticketed for parking without a valid license sticker, Lamkin deferred to other village officials. "It's a law that predates me," Lamkin said.
That type of ordinance isn't unusual in the suburbs and is meant to keep abandoned and inoperable vehicles off local streets, according to municipal law experts.
Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson was unapologetic and blamed White's office for any angst caused to those ticketed in Schaumburg.
"The outrage hasn't been with us; it's that the reminders were not sent out," Larson said.
White's office said it is saving at least $450,000 a month by stopping the mailed reminders during the state budget standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders. Vehicle owners can register for online reminders through a signup page on White's website.
"We were forced to make the difficult but necessary decision to suspend mailing courtesy reminder notices," said Dave Druker, a spokesman for White's office. "We are supporting (a bill) which would require police to offer warnings to motorists instead of issuing citations until the budget impasse is resolved."
That bill calls for a 30-day grace period for drivers. The Illinois Sheriff's Association suggests a two-month grace period, according to a news release on its website.
"It's not the fault of the car owner who relies on getting some type of reminder," said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. "I think we have to work with villages on this because why not just give them a warning?"
Jones said he also complained to mall management about police ticketing shoppers' cars but did not receive a response.
"We have friends who live in Arlington Heights, so we stop by Woodfield during the holidays and other times we visit them up there," Jones said. "My wife had just spent $700 at the Apple store when she got this ticket. I can tell you I am not likely to be returning to Woodfield again anytime soon."
Police officials said they have an agreement with the mall to patrol the parking lots. Simon Properties, owners of Woodfield Mall, did not respond to requests for comment.
Jones, a lawyer, had already paid the fine when he learned the village was offering to void tickets to drivers who promptly re-registered their vehicles.
"Donate my money and all the other windfalls to local domestic violence charities," Jones said. "If this isn't really about the money, they should disgorge themselves of the money and it should go to support something that will benefit them."
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