CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago is writing fewer parking tickets, but slapping more vehicles with the wheel-locking Denver boot.

Records released during opening day of City Council budget hearings showed the city issued just under 1.66 million parking tickets during the first eight months of this year, down 11.6 percent or 219,664 from the 1.88 million tickets written during the same period a year ago.

Ticketing was down, primarily because crime-fighting was a higher priority for Chicago Police officers. Even so, police still led the pack with 747,648 tickets, compared to 631,170 for Revenue Department parking enforcement aides and 227,740 for a private contractor hired to assist the city.

While the number of parking tickets issued was dropping, booting was going in the opposite direction. It’s on the upswing.

There were 44,581 boots applied from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, up by 7 percent or 3,112 from 41,469 boots applied during the first eight months of last year.

Why is booting up while ticketing is down?

Pressed to explain the discrepancy between the two numbers, Revenue Department spokesman Ed Walsh said, “Ticketing has been trending down for years. Our booters improved their productivity without any overtime” by using technology.

Revenue Director Bea Reyna-Hickey did not hesitate when asked why booting is up while ticketing is down.

“Booting is the same standard. It’s still three tickets of any age or two tickets one year or older,” she said.

Mayor Daley dropped the boot threshold from three unpaid tickets to two older than one year.

Reyna-Hickey said productivity has been further improved by automated license plate readers that allow boot crews to strike pay dirt more quickly.

“Our Auto- Views — the license plate recognition system that we purchased some time ago — is very, very productive. They drive down the streets. There’s not any additional staff. There’s no overtime. We’re covering with the same shifts. It’s just that they’re more productive out there on the street.”

In 2008, 26 city vans were equipped with cameras, computers and software capable of scanning 900 license plates per hour and checking them against the list of boot-eligible motorists.

Two months ago, Daley suspended Reyna-Hickey over a memo to the police department warning that ticket writing is down.

Reyna-Hickey was suspended for a day over the Aug. 10 memo that told police the city “will witness a dramatic decrease in annual revenues and not meet 2010 targets” if a slump in parking tickets and vehicle-compliance tickets continues.

“Stupidity. It was stupid. Just stupid. Some bureaucrat sent that out,” Daley said then. “The Revenue Department has nothing to do with the police department, period. They [officers] will determine whether you violated a law. No one else can. Especially revenue can’t.”

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