Anchorage scofflaws owe the city $6.2 million in unpaid traffic tickets

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — When Lt. Richard Henning with the Anchorage Police Department's traffic unit met KTUU for an interview in the department's new downtown headquarters, he carried two dozen sheets of paper with him containing thousands of names, each one of them a scofflaw.

"If you look through the list, it's just frankly ridiculous," Henning told KTUU. "People need to take responsibility for what they are doing."

A scofflaw is anyone whose unpaid, delinquent fines for moving violations exceed $1,000 dollars. Scofflaws who are pulled over for other violations or who police come into contact with through other calls risk having their vehicle impounded.

There are more than 3,000 drivers on the list, some of whom owe thousands of dollars each. Scofflaws collectively owe more than $6 million to the city.

"Keep in mind that is for unpaid citations, based on sheer numerical number of citations or whether it's the humongous speeding ticket they get for driving unsafely during a construction zone," Henning said. "There's some in there with over 50 tickets."

A review of the top 50 violators shows one man with 77 outstanding tickets as of April 11. Everyone in the top 50 has at least 25 tickets, and three individuals owe more than $10,000 each.

"The scofflaw list is comprised only of individuals who have more than $1,000 dollars in outstanding traffic violations," assistant municipal attorney Pamela Weiss told KTUU in a separate interview. "That doesn't mean that they've received $1,000 dollars in traffic tickets. It means they've received $1,000 dollars (in tickets), been found guilty of the offenses and then have not paid it so they are delinquent. They are past due."

Implemented statewide in 2007 by then-governor Sarah Palin, and adopted that same year in Anchorage, the scofflaw law's primary purpose is public safety.

"The purpose is to get the dangerous drivers that are ignoring their citations off the road," Henning said. "They should take responsibility for their actions and pay their tickets so they are not on the scofflaw list anymore, and they shouldn't drive."

Bank sweeps and Permanent Fund Dividend garnishments help collect some of the money owed. Impounds may provide additional incentive — a vehicle owner who owes fines won't be able to have their car released until fines are paid.

In 2018, Anchorage Police had nearly 1,200 vehicles towed under the scofflaw law. So far in 2019, police have towed about 430 vehicles as of April according to Henning.

The scofflaw list seems to remain fairly stable at around 3,000 offenders and about $6 million owed in any given year, Weiss says. As some people are taken off the list, new scofflaws are added.

The city has tried various techniques to enhance collection, but getting more law breakers to pay up more often has proven difficult.

"It is challenging because some of these speeding tickets are from eight years ago, 10 years ago. It's hard to find a current address or the person might not even live here anymore and feel like they need to pay the fine," Brendan Babb, the city's Chief Innovation Officer told KTUU. "There are people that have a bunch tickets on there that don't seem motivated to pay them and I am not sure our nudges can really help."

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