Making the Job Safer
While statutes protecting parking enforcement officials are desirable, the bottom line is they only come into play once a problem has manifested. The trick is to head off danger ahead of time.
Parking enforcement personnel need to be reminded that while they may be dealing with an inanimate object most of the time, the vehicles' owners may become quite animated, especially when they suspect that their cars have been singled out for enforcement.
Such concerns find some citizens taking the city to City Hall.
A New York-based citizens' advocate who calls himself Jimmy Justice told the Village Voice, "It's an outrage when cities depend on parking summons for revenue. When they do, they are opening the doors for very serious abuses." Justice posts embarrassing videos of illegally parked New York City on YouTube. "When someone gets a bogus ticket, everybody knows this is just part of a giant racket. It's sanctioned mugging," he says.
Assumed bias and double standards were two of the reasons Wenatchee, Wash., Parking Enforcement Officer Marcia Avery made a habit of ticketing the illegally parked vehicles of everyone irrespective of their position in the community-including the police chief. As such, she was able to retire having been largely spared the indignities of others in her position who have been taunted with racial slurs, battered, kicked, or had scalding Starbucks coffee thrown in their face.
An additional concern for parking enforcement supervisors is ensuring that their employees aren't so near-sighted in executing their jobs that they can't see the forest for the trees. They also need to occasionally take note of why the vehicle is illegally parked in the first place. Using a license plate reader (see box below) to check if a car is stolen is one way. Another is to notice the seepage of body fluids from the trunk, if not the body of the owner seated in the vehicle. But more than preventing embarrassing episodes, they can prevent acts of terrorism.
In Europe, London's much vilified traffic wardens towed an illegally parked car from Piccadilly Square, then noticed that it smelled of gasoline and alerted the police. Their enforcement and follow-up prevented a major terrorist tragedy.
LAPD sergeant André Belotto notes that parking enforcement can have other collateral benefits, like finding murderers. "The reason he was identified was because I wrote a parking ticket for his Ford Bronco and impounded it for being parked on the beach after 10 p.m.," says Belotto. "I was enforcing the parking restrictions by the beach before going to break up a loud party in the area. The suspect stabbed the party host and left the party before police arrived. His Bronco was the only vehicle not picked up from impound that night. Talk about having a pretty good clue...
"I still use the parking ticket story as an example of how a simple attention to detail in one's beat helped solve a murder."
Making the most of parking enforcement means looking at tickets as more than just revenue generators. Indeed, sufficiently trained and inspired, civilian staff may become the eyes and ears of law enforcement.
Parking enforcement personnel trained to look beyond the violation might save an agency from embarrassing episodes such as ticketing the same reported stolen vehicle 29 times. Or repeatedly hanging a docket on a car containing a dead passenger inside. They can even mitigate terrorist attacks.
Personnel should be trained to recognize the schedule of those frequenting their routes. Who are the people making deliveries? What time do armored security vehicles arrive at businesses? Where are vehicles routinely parked and parcels dropped off? Why is a vehicle conspicuously parked illegally?
When parking enforcement officials carry out their appointed missions with tact, parity, and professionalism, their employers not only enjoy the collateral benefits of revenue, but more eyes and ears to their mission to protect their own.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Advanced Public Safety
License Plate Readers
ELSAG North America
Federal Signal PIPS
Parking Enforcement Vehicles