High-ranking officials at the Metropolitan Police Department met the representatives of cab companies and individual taxi drivers to discuss their complaints alleging police harassment, following a WAMU 88.5 report on questionable tickets issued to cabbies in Northeast Washington.
The report detailed the cabbies’ complaints in the police department’s fifth district, where officers wrote 1,368 tickets for taxi code violations from Jan. through Oct. 2015, more than three times the 394 tickets written in the city’s other six police districts combined, according to data obtained by the Teamsters Union Local 922 and shared with WAMU.
A single traffic cop, Officer Thomas Krmenec, wrote 842 of the 1,368 tickets. The Teamsters are representing the taxi drivers in court to fight the tickets.
“They were receptive. They understood our issues,” said Royale Simms, a Teamsters attorney who met for two hours with MPD Assistant Chief Diane Groomes and the fifth district’s top cop, Commander William Fitzgerald.
“The officer has a right to write the tickets, but it is all about a matter of discretion and professionalism,” said Simms, who said police officials reached out to the Teamsters after the report aired on WAMU in early January.
Yellow Cab Co., one of the largest fleets in Washington, also had representatives at the high-level meeting because many of its drivers have been pulled over and socked with multiple tickets for hundreds, if not thousands, in fines in a single traffic stop.
“MPD agreeing to meet with both parties to go over the issue is a great start,” said Yellow Cab general manager Roy Spooner.
“Where there are real infractions that affect public safety, we certainly expect them to enforce it. But where there are minor infractions that do not impact public safety we expect more discretion. These are very hard times for cab drivers,” Spooner said.
Cab drivers say the police have been pulling them over for failure to wear their seatbelts, even though after 6 p.m. cabbies are not required to, under the District’s book of taxi regulations (Title 31). Drivers say officers then proceed to look for any and all possible violations, tacking on several more tickets. For instance, Officer Krmenec is known for writing tickets for a dirty trunk, even when their trunks are empty, according to cab drivers interviewed by WAMU.
An MPD spokesman declined to comment on the meeting, and said top police officials were not available for interviews. Simms said the number of tickets being written appears to have decreased in the weeks since the initial report was broadcast.