The parking enforcement officer. While most people might cringe at the sound of that term, those same people likely don’t understand exactly what one does, or has to put up with as a result. I spoke to Kathleen Begin-Wasco who has been a parking enforcement officer with the City of Corvallis Police Department for 18 years.
“You have to have thick skin to be a parking enforcement officer. People aren’t going to like you,” she said. You have to be able to deal with people honking their horns at you, yelling rude remarks out their window like “Get a real job!” and calling you every name in the book. “But you can’t take it personally,” she said. Wasco has even had food and change thrown at her, which is ironic because that change should have been put in the meter to avoid the ticket in the first place. She has also had to dodge cars to avoid being run over.
There’s a rumor that if you see an officer writing you a ticket, and you drive away before they serve it to you, the ticket is invalid. This is not true. The ticket is forwarded to the municipal court, and if you don’t pay it, it will be brought to collections. You can’t avoid the ticket, so don’t try to speed off. Wasco has had her foot run over from people speeding off, but thankfully she was not injured.
Although the most common ticket is for expired meters, the most frustrating ones are ones that have more than one violation. However, Wasco says one of the best things about being a parking enforcement officer is that they have officer discretion. If your car’s parked more than 12 inches from a curb facing the wrong way, you could get two tickets, but that’s for the officer to decide. Contrary to popular belief, parking enforcement officers do not have a quota they have to fill.
Wasco is also good at spotting fake parking permits, but there are other tricks that people try to use to park at meters for free. Some people laminate a note that says “meter broken” and put it on their windshield as an excuse to park at a meter for free. This doesn’t work because if an officer sees that, they test the meter to check its status. The officers also keep an eye on the cars that try this to see if that car is doing it in more than one place.
Wasco even has to deal with pranks. She remembers one incident in particular, a college prank on 26th Street where students picked up cars on the side of the road and turned them 90 degrees, perpendicular to the sidewalk so that they blocked most of the road.
Wasco says that the department tries their hardest to educate the public on the parking ordinances. For instance, they make flyers to put on your windshield as a warning that what you’re doing is illegal. They have also handed out flyers to houses and vehicles prior to football season to remind people not to park on lawns and yards. New laws are also advertised on their website.
Even though Wasco discussed some horror stories on the job, she says that citizens are usually nice to her. Most people understand that what they did violated an ordinance and apologize. There are even times when she notices passersby watching her get yelled at to make sure that the yeller doesn’t try anything violent, and later come to her and say, “I had your back” or “You handled that well.”
Corvallis parking enforcement is police department-based rather than privately based, so police officers also have a close relationship with parking enforcement officers and keep an eye on them in potentially violent situations.
So how does Wasco deal with the stress of this job? “You have to know that people are good. No one likes getting a ticket, but I try to explain the rules so that they understand that what they’re doing is breaking an ordinance. This is why the department focuses on getting the public educated, especially when the rules are different from state to state” she said.
Considering that many of our city’s ordinances came about because citizens expressed a concern about negative impacts on the way people were parking their cars, parking enforcement officers are very much needed. Bottom line, parking enforcement officers have a duty that helps keep parking efficient and streets safe. Who else are you going to call when someone parks their car on your lawn on game days?
To find out more about parking rules and regulations, go to www.corvallisoregon.gov.
by Jennifer Smith