Hundreds of out-of-state plates reported to city

Vancouver City Council updated on program for license plate violations

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer



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In the last 45 days, 360 cars with out-of-state plates have been reported to the city of Vancouver by community members. That’s an average of eight reports a day. At the same time, the Neighbors On Watch volunteer group has observed more than 1,000 vehicles with out-of-state plates. These statistics were presented to the Vancouver City Council during a workshop Monday evening about the city’s new effort to enforce out-of-state license plate violations.

The city recently conducted a study and learned it’s losing out on more than $300,000 in annual revenue from a $20 tab license fee as a result of numerous residents failing to register their vehicles in state. That loss could double in mid-2018 if a fee increase is approved.

The program launched in October with a new online reporting site and weekly volunteer outings to identify, record and investigate residents in violation.

Volunteers have spent time in four neighborhoods so far, looking at cars parked on the street, in driveways and in parking lots for apartments. About 54 percent of vehicles in violation were observed in apartment complex parking lots.

“It’s very significant,” said Jaycee Elliott, Vancouver police crime analyst.

Of plates noted, 85 percent were from Oregon and 15 percent were from other states.

In addition to placing informative flyers on cars found in violation, Vancouver Police received specialized training to better identify drivers in violation of the law and begin to issue citations. The penalty for living in Washington with out-of-state plates is $1,122. To date this year, police have issued 56 citations. Last year at this time, that number was only 37.

“It’s not as simple as just observing an out-of-state plate that makes somebody noncompliant,” Elliott said. Drivers could still be in the 30-day grace period or just visiting the area. “A little investigation needs to happen on the back end.”

This includes checking voter registration records based on the name listed on the car’s registration and utility records. If police can verify the driver’s residence that way, a citation will be issued.

The city is also in talks with the Washington State Patrol to use its database of more than 26,000 vehicles that have been observed at least three times driving with out-of-state plates. Three observations is enough to establish probable cause to pull a driver over.

“Make that happen,” Councilor Alishia Topper said. “That would be exponentially better for us.”

Topper joined Councilor Jack Burkman and Mayor Tim Leavitt in issuing a warning for Vancouver drivers: Follow the law or be prepared for a hefty fine.

“The jig is up,” Leavitt said. “We’ve been very patient — and frankly, in the past we haven’t devoted the resources to take this on — but we’ve made a concerted effort to reach out to the public and raise awareness. I think maybe a little more compassion through the holiday season, but once January 1 comes around, my perspective is go full throttle.”