Residents: Police should give warnings, not fines, for minor infractions

File photo

From owning an unlicensed animal to driving without a front
license plate, residents are being cited for minor infractions
without warning
– and some have said they would appreciate that courtesy from
police.
From owning an unlicensed animal to driving without a front license plate, residents are being cited for minor infractions without warning – and some have said they would appreciate that courtesy from police.

“Start with a warning,” said Clark Street resident Gil Garcia, who found a $25 ticket for not having a front license plate on the windshield of his parked car in March. “Then, if I don’t do it, fine me. I think that would have been more appropriate.”

Garcia said he drove his 2006 Chrysler 300 around town for three years, the front plate issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles locked securely in his trunk instead of mounted on his front bumper, and never heard a word from police about it. Although he knew he was required to display his front license plate, his car, which he bought in California, didn’t come with the appropriate bracket to attach the plate.

“What gets me is that if a dealer is going to sell me a car, they should equip it with a frame for the plate,” Garcia said.

After paying the $25 ticket, the first thing Garcia did was purchase a $87 front license plate bracket for his car.

What’s frustrating for Garcia is that “if you go around every street in town, you’ll see cars with no license plates,” he said.

Unfortunately, police can’t catch everyone, said Sgt. Wes Stanford. And despite some residents’ suspicions that the Gilroy Police Department is ticketing for minor infractions to raise revenues, police have received no such orders from Police Chief Denise Turner, Stanford said.

“The whole financial part of ticketing doesn’t play into why we write them,” Stanford said. “We’re trying to change behavior. The state gives you two license plates – one for the front and one for the back. If you don’t use both of them, that’s OK. But if you get caught, that’s on you.”

Besides, parking tickets aren’t a major revenue stream for the GPD, Stanford said. On average, the City of Gilroy has collected less than $4,000 per month over the last eight months in parking ticket fines, according to city figures. That money goes into the city’s general fund, Revenue Officer Irma Navarro said.

Most parking penalties within the City of Gilroy cost $40. But a few, such as parking in a commercial bus or school bus zone, run as high as $278.

Even though most residents would prefer receiving a warning prior to a fine, “The vehicle code is the warning,” Stanford said. “If you don’t have two license plates on your car, you might get a citation or you might get a warning. But maybe not. We’re trying to make a concerted effort as a department to be proactive in all areas of law enforcement, from parking to gang suppression.”

The police department doesn’t maintain records on the number of citations issued for license plate violations or other lesser violations, such as owning an unlicensed pet, but residents felt that there has been a recent increase in ticketing for these infractions.

Warned by a friend that police were cracking down on pet owners, Mike Cobb said he immediately took care of licensing his beagle-terrier mix, Tasha.

“Our vet never said anything about needing a license,” Cobb said. “Neither did the shelter where we adopted Tasha. When the vet and the shelter didn’t say anything, we thought it was no big deal.”

Cobb also wondered whether police were “cracking down” as a revenue generating tactic.

In an effort to make compliance easier for pet owners, the police department plans to launch an education campaign in the coming months.

Pet owners used to have to drive to the Morgan Hill Police Department to register their animals.

“That’s just not good customer service for our residents,” Stanford said.

Thanks to police pushing for changes in city code, Gilroyans can now register their pets either online or in person at the police department.

“We want it to be convenient,” Stanford said.

Police planned to start the campaign by issuing warnings, but then citations will follow if residents do not comply with the law.

“We ran for a long time on the warning system,” Stanford said. “That was not effective. We receive so many complaints about animals. We are required to deal with them, and it costs a lot of money.”

Providing animal control services is not something police can do for free, he said. Enforcing licensing of dogs helps prevent dogs from running loose, helps police locate owners more quickly and helps fund the service.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re to this point, but having a pet is a responsibility,” Stanford said. “We want volunteer compliance. We don’t want to go out and write a bunch of tickets and make people mad.”

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