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Enforcement to Service: Rebranding Negative Views of L.A. Parking Officers

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Jennifer Sabih speaks with LADOT Officer Enrique De La Cruz for a segment of KCET's 'SoCal Connected' | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET
Jennifer Sabih speaks with LADOT Officer Enrique De La Cruz for a segment of KCET's 'SoCal Connected' | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET
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A segment on our award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected" has been produced in tandem with this story. Watch it here now.

It's an age-old story: Drivers think parking enforcement officers spend their time waiting to nail someone with a ticket. Enforcement officers, on the other hand, are disgruntled because they have a host of responsibilities outside of writing you up for parking in a space too long.

A new mandate from the city's Parking Enforcement and Traffic Control Division may be the catalyst needed to start reconciling both sides. Special Order No. 168 -- sent out earlier this month -- instructs all officers in the division of steps they must take to seek compliance from drivers when issuing them citations.

If you return before an officer has started writing a citation, for example, and are willing to move your vehicle, the officer should allow you to do so without a ticket. If the officer is in the middle of writing the citation, however, and has already entered "critical citation information," then you're getting a ticket. (It doesn't matter if you get there one minute into the officer writing a citation or 15 minutes into the process -- an officer can't stop the citation based on policy; she has to complete it.)

Enforcement officers hope the mandate will ease perceptions of traffic control workers as the "bad guy."

"There's so much we do in the day. It's not just tickets," Officer Enrique De La Cruz told KCET. "There's stolen vehicles. There's traffic controls."

Enforcement officers also work special events, such as festivals, parades, and protests, added Sgt. Kimmi Porter. Often, she said, parking tickets issued in front of stores are a way of helping storeowners -- when someone is parked in one spot for too long, there is no turnover for new customers.

"It's unfortunate. People are going to look at us [as the bad guy] because when you issue a citation, you're taking money from them," Porter said. "We try to create more positive stories, but it can be difficult because people see it as only one way."

Willing compliance rules aren't new; the special order is a reminder and a direct response to complaints that officers were ticketing drivers without asking them to comply first, according to Jay Beeber with the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative, an organization seeking to change L.A.'s parking policies.

"So, someone is sitting in the car by the curb making a phone call...and they pull over temporarily," he explained. "Officers were pulling up behind them, writing down their license plates, and mailing them a ticket. That's not appropriate."

Beeber, who's on a specially convened parking committee at City Hall, worked with LADOT on the issue, which prompted the special order.

De La Cruz said he's had his fair share of insults hurled his way while issuing citations. He doesn't take it personally because no one expects to get a parking ticket when they start their day. "Usually, they're not that happy to see you."

His worst experience? Driving down the street at 40 miles-per-hour, and having someone cut him off and slam the brakes ("That'll scare you pretty good," he added). But De La Cruz insisted officers don't want to cite drivers; he says he helps people avoid tickets when he can.

"You try to help them. They might ask you, 'Where can I park if I can't park out here?'" he explained. "I'll say, 'Well, there's 10-hour parking meters down here and there's two-hour meters down there.' You just want people to move. You don't want to give them a ticket."

De La Cruz welcomes Beeber and the parking reform group, especially if they can help change the way L.A. drivers view him. For his part, Beeber says he would like to see enforcement officers' titles changed to something more community-oriented.

"If the officers looked at themselves as community service officers... they can help someone understand what the problem is, rather than issue a ticket," Beeber explained. "So they're serving the community, rather than being the bad guy out on the street."

Read Special Order 168 below:

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