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Renegade Parking

I snapped this photo last Friday, around 2:00 in the afternoon.

Anyone who has lived, worked, or visited Cleveland Heights, Ohio will probably tell you that the local police are notorious for writing tickets for parking violations. Sure, it's ironic to see a police car illegally parked in a city that has zero-tolerance for illegal parking. Any motorist who has been ticketed for an expired meter violation might be justifiably upset; but you don't have to be a motorist to find this sort of behavior unacceptable.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are really a number of specific reasons why having police that don't park legally is bad for everybody.

1) It makes drivers feel victimized. How would you like to be a visitor in Cleveland Heights and get a parking ticket because you didn't feed your meter, only to walk a block down the street and find the police car of the officer who ticketed you parked at an expired meter? You'd probably be pretty pissed. You might not want to visit anymore. You might take your business elsewhere. If the police had simply put a quarter in the meter, at least they could point to it as behavior that should be modeled.

2) It's bad for local business. Metered parking on streets exists so that customers can have a place to park for a short period of time and so they can run into local businesses. With the police taking a space for an indefinite period of time and not paying, at least one fewer customer was able park in front of the business next to where I took the photo.

3). Last, and most importantly, it justifies the mindset that parking ought to be "free". Think about it. The police are supposed to be the enforcer of a policy that, although many people dislike it, is necessary for the proper functioning of an urban retail or mixed-use environment. When the police fail to respect the law that they are enforcing, it leads people to believe that the law isn't worth having and that if "free" parking is good enough for the police, it ought to be good enough for everybody.

Update: I've gotten a few emails and there seems to be some confusion about this post that I want to clear up. I'm not making a claim about the legality of police parking, per se. I don't know whether the municipal law in Cleveland Heights exempts police vehicles from parking in certain places, but that isn't the point. If police are responding to a crime and their lights are flashing, then yes, they should be able to park wherever they need to respond to that crime. However, if they are stopping to get donuts or write tickets for expired meters (which I witnessed two officers doing on the afternoon I took this picture), then the department should spring for some rolls of quarters for officers to put in the meters, because it's a matter of public relations. As Ed Morrison noted back in December, this is a department that already has a bit of a PR problem.


Anonymous said…
Yeah but.

If you're a civilian and you can't easily park in front of a certain store, and you say to heck with it... the store loses a sale maybe.

If you're a cop and you can't easily park somewhere you may be needed, and you say to heck with it... the citizens lose out on your presence.

Not the same thing.
Rob Pitingolo said…
catfood, if you're a cop and you say to 'heck with it'... you're a pretty sorry cop. Whether or not the police patrol a neighborhood shouldn't be dependent on the availability of free/illegal parking for them.
John Morris said…

I fully appreciate your blog and it's spin. Illegal parking abuses by government officials like the kind streetsblog has covered in NYC are outrageous.

However, an on duty police car is quite different. Being able to quickly intereact with the community and respond is critical. In fact, it's probably a good reason parking on public streets should rarely be free.

One might also make the case that in many places, it's a lot better if most cops patrol on foot or by bike with car units mostly used as "backup".
Rob Pitingolo said…
Thanks, John. Here's the thing, I'm not saying the police have no right to park on the street. I'm wondering why the department can budget for some rolls of quarters to feed the meters?

Presumably the argument is that revenue flow is circular... coins in meters fund local government, local government funds the police, and round and round. Thus, why not eliminate the middle man and just let the police ignore meters? In the end, I still think it's an issue of perception. If the budget is in-balance regardless of whether police pay or ignore, the better option is still to make them pay.
John Morris said…
Hmmmm, you may have a point here.

I don't imagine feeding meters with coins is a good idea, but say you had an electronic system which charged cars in some way or a card system that tracked the use of police parking spaces.

As you say, the symbolism is very big. In general, the biggest benefit of all charging systems would be to assign spaces according to their highest value and open them up for people who really want and need them.

Even Jane Jacobs was a fan of cars and particularly trucks. Still the best way to move a sofa.

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