A small mob of tardy motorists with tags and registrations that expired Sunday drove to the Mondawmin Mall motor vehicle office Monday, paid to reregister their cars and emerged to find that just a little late was not soon enough.
While the car owners were inside doing their civic duty, two foot-patrolofficers were outside doing theirs: writing $17 tickets for expired tags.
"Gee, that's not right, is it? They know people are coming up here to renew their tags," said Russell Howe, 33, of Baltimore, who unpeeled his new "92" sticker and plastered it on his rear tag before discovering a $17 ticket under the windshield wiper of his 1979 Monte Carlo.
Two officers assigned to foot patrol at the Mondawmin Mall swept through the lot in front of the Motor Vehicle Administration branch office yesterday, police confirmed, and wrote 19 tickets for expired registrations.
The officers are at the mall primarily to prevent vehicle thefts, said Capt. Gerard Busnuck of the Northwest District. But they are also supposed to write tickets when they get the chance. And, he said, they have found that the first of any month usually brings a fresh crop of procrastinators to the MVA office, which sits in the southwest corner of the mall's parking lot.
Witnesses said several enraged motorists argued in vain with the officers who wrote the tickets. One man stormed into the MVA to object. "I saw a few people who had the tickets, and they were mad as hell," said Anthony Bowman, 32, of Towson, who watched the arguments from the hood of his car while waiting for his girlfriend to come out of the MVA.
Police said they were just enforcing the law. But at least some of the motorists felt it was a dirty trick to ticket them while they were trying -- even belatedly -- to comply with the law.
Marcellus Oglesby, 18, of Edmondson Village, stood next to his maroon 1986 Ford Escort holding a $17 ticket for having expired tags, his new registration card and "92" tag sticker in his right hand.
"I went in to get my tags [renewed]," he said, sounding as if he were trying to sort it all out. "I got everything I was supposed to get. Then I saw this [ticket] on my windshield. If I'm down here getting my tags, why did I get a ticket?"
James P. Lang, a spokesman for the MVA, said the first of the month is traditionally a time when branch offices are crowded with people who show up to renew tags that expired the day before. (Registrations and tags must be renewed annually by the last day of the same month in which they were first issued).
And, he said, the MVA has occasionally heard reports of mass ticketing taking place at other MVA offices.
Captain Busnuck said the mall officers have been ticketing MVA customers for expired tags for sometime, and those motorists frequently challenge the tickets in court. Some, but not all, succeed. "Some judges take it into consideration that the person . . . was in for tags," he said.
To keep the motorists honest, he said, the two officers routinely note on the tickets when they're written in the parking area directly in front of the MVA branch.
(The two officers wrote 13 tickets yesterday for expired registrations on cars parked elsewhere in the mall.) Presumably, motorists parked elsewhere in the mall lot were shopping and not in the MVA renewing their tags.
Captain Busnuck denies the practice is sneaky. "I wouldn't call it lying in wait. The people come to them," he said.
Several of those receiving tickets said they suspected it was part of an effort by the city to raise money. But city and state officials said the revenue from all traffic tickets except parking tickets goes directly to the state's general fund. Parking fines go to the city.
"There's no pressure at the Northwest District to write more tickets except in cases of serious moving violations, such as drunken driving," Captain Busnuck said.