Monday, January 08, 2007

Victims of "Parking Rage"

Bill Borwegen, health and safety Director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reminded me today that generally, when one thinks of "law enforcement," one thinks of cops, well armed and trained to defend themselves against any aggressive lawbreakers who might try to assault them.

But actually, there are all kinds of "law enforcement" personnel -- including those who enforce parking laws -- and they aren't generally armed, trained (or paid) for the aggressive behavior of frustrated drivers -- particularly in San Francisco. So what seems at first like an amusing article about the trials and tribulations of parking in the City on the Bay, is actually a rather harrowing tale of yet another unseen (and unappreciated) category of public employee.
Burdened with one of the densest downtowns in the country and a Californian love for moving vehicles, San Franciscans have been shocked in recent months by crimes related to finding places to park, including an attack in September in which a young man was killed trying to defend a spot he had found.

More recently, the victims have been parking control officers — do not call them meter maids — who suffered four attacks in late November, and two officers went to a hospital.

Over all, 2006 was a dangerous year for those hardy souls handing out tickets here, with 28 attacks, up from 17 in 2005.

All of which has left officials in this otherwise civilized community scrambling to explain, and solve, “parking rage.”
And it ain't funny.
“It’s hard for me to understand people reacting in such a hostile manner,” said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., executive director of the Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees parking. “Clearly, this is a working person simply doing their job. I’ve gotten parking tickets, and I sort of slap myself on the wrist and pay the ticket.”

People in the field say abuse is common, often frightening and, occasionally, humiliating. In November, an officer was spat on, another was punched through the window of his Geo Metro, and an irate illegal parker smashed the windshield of another officer’s golf-cart-like vehicle.

“Just driving down the street, you get yelled at,” said Lawanna Preston, staff director for Local 790 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents parking control officers.

The officers are city employees but not in the Police Department.

“They can’t even eat lunch with that uniform on, because people approach them and curse at them,” Ms. Preston said.
And they ain't taking it any more. About 75 of the traffic enforcement officers, who make around $40,000 a year, demonstrated last week in front of the Hall of Justice to ask for more protection.

And like most workplace safety issues, there are causes and there are solutions. The causes include a geographically confined, densely populated city with too few underpriced parking spaces and too few overpriced garage parking. Possible solutions: adding cameras to the officers’ vehicles and pepper spray to their equipment, as well as increasing the penalties for attacking parking officers.

One thing missing from the article, however, is any mention of CalOSHA's involvement -- the agency that is supposed to be ensuring the safety of workers -- even parking enforcment workers.

Of course, San Francisco isn't the only city with serious parking problems. In fact, the problem is so widespread that there's even a parking blog.