OREGON IS THE ONLY state in the nation that lets its citizens—not just police—write traffic tickets. But more than two years after a notorious case involving a citizen and a cop car brought national attention to the little-known policy, it still seems nearly impossible to actually file a citizen ticket.
In recent weeks, a handful of aggrieved people who tried to write up offenders with so-called "citizen-initiated tickets" told the Mercury they found the process frustrating, running up against police and court officials who said they've never heard of the unique law.
Garth Cramer was biking on SW Multnomah Boulevard last April when a driver took a right turn into him. Cramer was fine, but his $750 bicycle wasn't. Officers wouldn't write a citation (they usually ticket only in crashes involving alcohol or major injuries), so Cramer took the law into his own hands.
Cramer says he marched down to the Central Precinct to ticket the driver under ORS 153.058, the legal code that allows for citizen tickets. But at the precinct, Cramer struck a huge obstacle.
"The officers had no idea what I was talking about," gripes Cramer, who says the police sent him to the courthouse, which sent him back to the police. After five and a half hours, Cramer finally found a police supervisor who would file his ticket. He hopes a court ruling will give him leverage with the insurance companies to pay for his bike.
Local bike and pedestrian lawyer Ray Thomas says Cramer's problem is typical. Portlander Eric Bryant gained national attention when he took it upon himself to write a cop a parking ticket ["Turning the Tables," News, April 17, 2008]. Since then, Thomas estimates there's been only a dozen citizen-initiated cases in Portland, and that all have had trouble because of officials' lack of knowledge.
"People ought to take the law into their own hands peacefully," says Thomas. "We should have a user-friendly court system so lawyers don't have to be involved in everything."
Dale Hardway had a frustrating experience when he tried to ticket a cell phone yakking driver who nearly struck him in a SE Foster crosswalk September 14. Police wouldn't ticket the driver because they didn't see the incident, so Hardway spent three hours downtown trying to figure out how to file a ticket on his own. "The people at Central Precinct had no clue what to do," says Hardway, who gave up.
Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says officers don't always know how to file the complaints because they come along so infrequently. He acknowledges, though, that citizens are sometimes frustrated that police only write tickets for serious crashes where guilt is clear. "A couple hours of diagramming and paperwork for non-injury accidents just isn't worth it," says Simpson.
To file a citizen-initiated ticket, officers have to complete a special report and send it to the circuit court traffic department. Read the full policy below.
Official Police Protocol for Filing a Citizen Ticket
(bring this with you if you’re trying to file a citizen-initiated ticket!)
Citation Issuance by Private Persons (860.10)
ORS 153.058 allows private persons the right to commence citation issuance proceedings in traffic matters. When a private person is adamant about issuing a Z-Cite to another person and has the information necessary to identify both the offender and his/her vehicle, members will:
a. Complete a Special Report stating the allegation, the offending vehicle, the names and vital identifying information of all involved parties, as well as their statement. In some cases, members may conduct brief investigations to determine the name of the alleged violator.
b. Complete a Z-Cite, leaving the court time appearance, date and signature spaces blank.
c. Direct the complaining person to appear at the Circuit Court Clerk's Office Traffic Department, Multnomah County Courthouse, 7 to 14 days after the date of investigation in order to swear to, and sign the Z-Cite.
d. Send all copies of the Z-Cite, along with a copy of the Special Report of the incident, to the Circuit Court Clerk's Office Traffic Department.