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Curbside Justice

With the right training, parking enforcement officers can do much more than generate revenue.

March 15, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Encompassing everything from red curbs to alleyways, from metered parking spots to handicapped designated violators, parking enforcement is often seen as a nuisance. But it can also be a means of identifying red flags: the car parked illegally outside a bank with the engine running, the truck seemingly abandoned along a parade route.

It is also not without its dangers.

On the political end of the spectrum, ticket issuance can generate everything from allegations of racism to falsified summons, with repercussions running the gamut.

When Eugene (Ore.) PD officers arrested Ben Bond following a confrontation with a parking enforcement officer, it set off a local firestorm with media coverage finding sympathy for Bond's actions. His offense? Paying the expired parking meters of strangers. Charged with harassment and obstruction of governmental administration, the 30-year-old admits to "plugging," but denies getting physical with the parking enforcement officer.

The sentiment underlying many of Bond's supporters is a perception that parking enforcement is little more than a means of generating revenue to help pay for the salaries of those who approved themselves raises. True or not, it is revelatory of the mood of many who are less enamored of such enforcement than the enforcers themselves.

In fairness, some cities are looking to parking enforcement to pick up some fiduciary slack.

Economically challenged municipalities-even some that have laid off cops-will hire parking enforcement officers, often referred to as "meter maids," to generate revenue. Foremost among them is New York City, which receives nearly $600 million in parking revenue annually. In 2009, Chicago leased its parking operation to a private firm, receiving an up-front payment of $1 billion in exchange for the next 75 years of parking revenue (and incurring the enmity of many of its constituents, both for losing prospective revenue and for allowing the rates on 36,000 meters to get jacked up). Atlanta outsourced its parking operation as well, obtaining a promised $5.5 million annual return in exchange.

Other cities, such as Louisville, Ky., have lowered the criteria by which cars may be "booted," or immobilized: Two parking citations on file is enough to find one's car in lock-down.

It's not just the little guy that's getting slammed, either. Some companies-including parcel delivery services such as UPS-may pay millions in parking tickets each year because in most cities there is no way the driver can locate a legal parking spot for each delivery. As one driver noted, "A lot of meter maids have figured this out and just trail our drivers all day long handing out ticket after ticket. The company has decided to just eat the cost of the tickets and deliver the packages on time rather than fight the parking problems in urban areas."

Not surprisingly, not everyone is so enamored of such vehicular vigilance. Some retaliate in person.

Seeing Red (Zones)

On the physical side, parking enforcement can be dangerous. As Jimmy Price, chief of parking enforcement and traffic control in Los Angeles, told National Public Radio, "We've seen shots fired at our vehicles. We've had officers carjacked at gunpoint. We've had individuals batter our vehicles out of frustration."

Such attacks are common throughout the country, and were the reason that in 2007 San Francisco sponsored a bill making attacks against parking enforcement officers a felony. And the New York state legislature extended a special protection to parking enforcement officers that was once reserved for police, firefighters, and paramedics. Physical contact resulting in injury to a parking enforcement officer is now a Class D felony in the state, punishable with a sentence of up to seven years.

Not that every affronted car owner desires a face-to-face confrontation. Some take the Unabomber approach.

Shortly after receiving an envelope through the U.S. mail, an employee with the Austin (Texas) Police Department became violently ill after a brown filthy liquid leaked from the parcel onto her work station and hands. Joshua Steven Solberg was ordered to pay $3,000 for having stuffed the envelope with payment for his parking fine and dog feces.

CONTINUED: Curbside Justice «   Page 1 of 2   »

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