More than 200,000 parking tickets issued between Sept. 1 and April 5 have been voided or will be refunded by the city of Seattle, after the discovery of a major error: Parking officers had not been granted the authority to write citations.

Around 100,000 paid tickets will be refunded, costing the city between $4.5 million and $5 million. Another 100,000 unpaid tickets have been canceled. The mass purge was due to an oversight as parking enforcement officers transitioned from the Seattle Police Department into the Seattle Department of Transportation, a move spurred by protests in 2020 and intended to reduce the footprint of the police.

The transition began in September, but the officers were not granted “special commission” status to perform enforcement activities until April. Special commissions are issued to individuals outside the Seattle Police Department to perform law enforcement activities on behalf of the city.

Mayor Bruce Harrell ordered the commissions be granted in April, said spokesperson Jamie Housen. The city has retained a third-party administrator to help issue refunds to those who have already paid their tickets, Housen said.

Chrisanne Sapp, head of the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild, was made aware of the cancellations Tuesday, when an officer notified her that 40 of his citations had been cleared. She checked the tickets she’d written in that period and found that many, if not all, of those had been canceled as well.

The reason listed was the code “INJ,” which means “in the interest of justice.” The date of every ticket’s dismissal was May 28.


Sapp said she’d never seen anything like it. “My initial reaction was I was dumbfounded,” she said. “I was blindsided, and I had no idea what was going on.”

Until last year, parking enforcement officers were within the Seattle Police Department, although they were not police officers. As cries to reallocate police resources grew louder amid Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the mayor and City Council turned to parking enforcement as a function that could move to a separate department.

Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, chair of the council’s transportation committee, called the disclosure “a surprising and serious bureaucratic breakdown that would have never happened if the legislation had been properly implemented last September.”

Pedersen, who voted in favor of moving the officers to SDOT, thanked Harrell for addressing the issue. “This reinforces that rearranging our public safety systems is complicated and can result in unintended consequences unless implemented with the utmost care,” he said.

The parking enforcement officers lobbied to transition into the newly created Community Safety and Communications Center, along with 911 dispatch. But elected officials chose instead to move them to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Sapp said the transition has been challenging. “They led us to believe it would be a seamless transition and it’s been anything but seamless,” she said. While the work has continued, Sapp said it’s been challenging for members to get quick answers from SDOT leadership and have found that there’s not a great understanding of the work they do.


As part of the transition, Sapp said the union pushed for parking enforcement officers to be granted special commission permits by the Seattle Police Department, which are often granted to retired officers or court employees and allow for broader enforcement authority.

That did not happen, she said, until April, when they were told to fill out their applications for the permit.

Sapp said she’s frustrated by the oversight and concerned about the safety of her officers, as drivers may feel greater impunity to confront or ignore them.

“This puts my membership and my unit in a more precarious and unsafe situation,” she said.

Harrell has only sparingly weighed in on the decision to transition parking enforcement into SDOT. In a Jan. 13 appearance on KIRO Newsradio’s Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin Show, he called SDOT “an awkward place” for parking enforcement but didn’t elaborate on whether he’d like to see it moved.

The cancellations do not appear to have impacted automated traffic cameras, which are operated by the Police Department. Additionally, tickets written in late April and May, after parking enforcement officers filled out their special commission applications, have not been canceled. Unpaid tickets from before September are also still active.

Parking enforcement slowed during the pandemic and cars were allowed to park for longer periods of time. But SDOT said recently it would resume full enforcement of its 72-hour rule.