Members of the Washington State Patrol provide facts and figures for public officials
BATTLE GROUND — Mayor Philip Johnson of Battle Ground hosted a public presentation on Wed., Nov. 15 by the Washington State Patrol that helped informed local elected officials about the ways the State Patrol goes about enforcing state licensing laws, as part of an ongoing effort in Clark County to reduce the number of out of state licensed vehicles.
In September, Johnson announced that he was reaching out to local city councilors and mayors to work together in a collaborative effort to enforce state licensing laws. The mayor and several city council members of Ridgefield and Battle Ground attended the event, and were able to ask questions of members of the State Patrol.
The public presentation was held in part to help educate local officials about what is true and not true concerning licensing laws in the state, Johnson said.
Trooper Richard Thompson gave the presentation, and Sergeant Glen Hobbs also facilitated the event.
Thompson and Hobbs were from the State Patrol’s License Investigation Unit, which is specifically devoted to investigate cases of license fraud in Washington. Thompson said the unit is made up of himself, Hobbs, and two civilian volunteers, and is funded by citations given from failing to register a vehicle in Washington.
Thompson said that a 2007 study by Washington State University provided the most up to date information available concerning the impacts of license fraud. Over five years, the study found that $80 million was lost to failing to register vehicles and license fraud.
In Clark County, Thompson said that there are approximately 20,000 vehicles registered out of state, and this means that $1.6 million is lost annually in licensing fees in the county.
Thompson said that in Washington, new residents have 30 days to register their vehicles and obtain a Washington Drivers License. Washington residents that purchase a vehicle out of state have 10 days to register it in state.
During the presentation, Thompson also went over the penalties for failing to register a vehicle in Washington. An infraction, or a failure to initially register a vehicle, is punishable by a fine of $1122. A gross misdemeanor of license fraud, which occurs when a Washington resident fails to pay any part of the sales tax or licensing fees of a vehicle, incurs a $1529 fine for the first offense, and the second, third and subsequent offenses incur a fine of $5529.
Thompson said that he works closely with the Department of Revenue when prosecuting fraud cases. The Department of Revenue will seek to recover all sales tax plus penalties and interest due, which equates to 143 percent of the sales tax.
“We focus on intent and intent to defraud,” Thompson said. “You write someone a $1122 ticket, that makes a difference.”
Thompson and Hobbs also outlined some of the difficulties of enforcing licensing laws. A lack of sufficient staffing was a major difficulty, Thompson said.
“We can only do what we can do in the day and go home,” he explained.
The local officials in the audience were able to ask questions of Thompson about ways to address the issue in their communities, as well as brainstorming potential solutions.
“We want to affect our community in a way that’s in a positive sense,” said Deputy Mayor Steven Phelps of Battle Ground.
Battle Ground Police Chief Bob Richardson also provided feedback to the council members in attendance.
“I’m all for going out and doing all this enforcement,” Richardson said, “but I think people also have to understand that it is labor intensive, you got to have the staff to do it, you got to have the equipment to do it.”
Mayor Ron Onslow of Ridgefield said that out of state plates are a problem that needs to be addressed on a local level.
“This is wrong, it’s not fair,” he said.
After the presentation, Johnson said that “there will be some efforts to try figure out how to do this.”
The meeting in Battle Ground comes as Vancouver continues efforts begun in October to increase compliance with license laws.
Jaycee Elliott, a crime analyst for the Vancouver Police Department, said that the volunteer organization Neighbors on Watch have been canvassing neighborhoods over the past month to identify out of state license plates.
Elliot said that so far those patrols have identified 800 out of state plates, and email tips have identified another 400.
“Now we’re working on simultaneously going through and determining if they’re complying or not,” he explained.
The efforts have been “very much about voluntary compliance,” Elliott said.
Enforcement by the Vancouver Police Department as a result of the canvassing efforts has yet to take place, Elliott said. Postcards explaining the law and encouraging voluntary compliance have yet to be sent out, but once that is done, Elliott said the department will examine the effects of voluntary compliance before outlining a definite course of action.