The scene by the Clark County Courthouse was calm last week. Dreary for a summer day, people hurried in and out of the building, then jumped in their cars and zoomed away.
But for the ones who didn’t properly estimate their time inside the building, city of Vancouver Parking Enforcement Officer Tim Brown was close by, cruising around on his bike and monitoring the area for parking violations.
“We do that so we can create turnover for the customers coming to the courthouse. We don’t want folks going in there and parking all day long,” Brown said.
Around 2:30 p.m., he inspected the parking slip perched on the dash of a gray-colored hybrid vehicle parked along Franklin Street. Brown peeked in, then checked his watch. The parking pass had expired about a half-hour before. Using his city-issued iPhone and an app called T2, he photographed the front end of the hybrid for documentation. Then he placed a receipt-style $25 citation, printed on weather-resistant material, under the car’s windshield wiper.
Suddenly, the vehicle’s owner approached.
“Is this your car, sir?” Brown asked. “I’m sorry. You have the right to appeal. The options are on the back of the slip.”
Looking defeated, the man replied, “Is it worth it?”
“That, sir, would be up to you,” Brown said.
Either way, the citation would be added to the 18,317 issued so far in 2019 by parking enforcement officers.
The interaction ended with Brown telling the motorist that he’s not able to give advice. Then he continued on his rounds. Despite holding a job that ultimately results in frustration and annoyance for those on the receiving end of a ticket, Brown said that it’s rare that an interaction escalates into conflict.
He also emphasized that officers are “not out to punish people.”
“We do not have a quota here. There’s always a misconception that we have a quota. It’s just a turnover issue,” he said.
Brown, 57, takes his job seriously. Dressed in florescent yellow, the Army veteran’s sunglasses are special-prescription, he said, to help him better see colors of cars. He’s been working in parking enforcement, on and off, for 27 years. He started his career at the University of Oregon, in his hometown of Eugene, Ore. He’s been working for the city of Vancouver for five years, he said.
For his job, he rotates with six other parking enforcement officers to cover downtown, which is divided into zones. Brown said that the Vancouver Police Department has “police techs” that enforce parking rules in other parts of the city.
Brown said his job isn’t limited to issuing parking tickets. He also has the ability to enforce infractions like crosswalk violations and expired vehicle license tabs, he said.
“A lot of people don’t realize this, but we are actually law enforcement officers. We have limited commission to parking enforcement,” he said.
The agency also practices some chalking — that is, the practice of marking a tire’s tread with a line of chalk to monitor whether or not the car has moved for a period of time, since the goal is to create parking turnover. Chalking as a way of enforcement has come under scrutiny, however. Earlier this year, following a legal battle by a Michigan woman, a federal appeals court ruled that chalking was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
“It’s controversial back East,” Brown said. “If we have a place that’s slammed, we’re going to have to chalk because we need turnover down here.”
That day, Brown wasn’t using the chalk — but he was keeping an eye on out-of-date registration tabs and pay slips. At least two vehicles in the span of an hour had out-of-date or nonexistent tabs. The fine is $50.
Impact of technology
Brown said that newer parking pay stations — the first six were installed back in 2004 — make it easier to collect parking fees but not necessarily to enforce parking rules. The old meters were easier to cruise by on his bike and see if they were expired. Now he may have to get off of his bike to read the pay slip.
Not all the old single-space meters are gone. According to Parking Services Manager Steve Kaspan, there are 770 remaining. A lot has changed for the world of parking enforcement, an occupation that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects to decline by 35 percent over the next decade.
“In 27 years I went from a physical book with carbon copies and a Polaroid camera that was only used for very bad infractions, to this technology,” said Brown, who enjoys taking photos on the job and actually entered a contest by the International Parking & Mobility Institute. “It is different. We have to be flexible. You’ve got to go with the punches.”
Technology, such as parking apps, has made it easier for people to monitor their time, resulting in far fewer parking citations in some communities. Other cities are trying to reduce public parking to encourage use of other modes of transportation.
The city of Vancouver is planning to roll out Parking Kitty late this summer or fall, the same smartphone app used for parking in many areas of Portland, Kaspan said.
That will mean more changes for Brown, who ironically doesn’t like to use a vehicle if he doesn’t have to. He describes himself as a “two-wheel guy.”
“I try to ride my motorcycle as much as I can and leave the car at home in the garage. I just love two wheels,” he said.