Chicago cops writing fewer parking tickets
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org August 10, 2012 12:48AM
Updated: September 11, 2012 6:20AM
Chicago Police officers who have their hands full with rising homicides and other violent crime are on pace to write 15 percent fewer parking tickets in 2012, but revenues are up, thanks to dunning deadbeats, dramatically higher fines and a fundamental shift to outside ticket-writers.
Through July 31, police officers wrote 513,413 parking tickets, or 73,344-a-month, a rate that would translate into 880,128 tickets for the year if it continues. That’s down 15 percent from the 86,202-a-month and 1.034 million tickets written last year and a 20 percent drop from 2010.
“Chicago Police officers are overwhelmed with the response to 911 calls and policing other crimes,” said Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields.
“We have fewer officers on the street. That will ultimately lead to less enforcement of any crimes,” including illegal parking.
Parking tickets revenues are a giant cash cow for the city, generating $154.4 million in annual revenue. It’s one of the biggest single sources of cash outside the city’s annual property tax levy and revenue Chicago can ill afford to lose at a time when it’s facing a $369 million budget shortfall.
Kathleen Strand, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, insisted there would be no loss of ticket revenue, even though police are on pace to write 154,307 fewer parking tickets.
That’s because LAZ Parking, the operator hired by the consortium that leased Chicago parking meters, is helping to pick up the slack. They churned out 72,933 parking tickets through July 31, compared to 43,947 through the same period a year ago.
Parking tickets are also written by the Finance Department’s 55 parking enforcement aides, and by Serco, Inc., a private contractor hired by the city. Those two entities together wrote 736,844 parking tickets through July 31, up from 727,187 during the same period a year ago.
“The Chicago Police Department is focused on doing the critical job of fighting and preventing crime and less on writing tickets. The City of Chicago’s Department of Finance and LAZ continue to write tickets and together have increased revenue from parking tickets by 10.5%,” Strand said in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Shields said he knows first-hand that “outside agencies are everywhere” writing parking tickets.
“If I’m parking on Lincoln Avenue or Clark Street, and I go to get my [pay-and-display receipt], within ten minutes, somebody is going to be out there checking on my car,” he said.
Two years ago, a dramatic drop-off in ticket-writing by Chicago Police officers prompted the city’s old Department of Revenue to pressure officers to pick up the pace.
A memo disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times warned police officials that the city would “witness a dramatic decrease in annual revenues and not meet 2010 targets” if the slump continued.
A police union leader called the memo a “troubling warning that smacked of ticketing quotas” and sent “the wrong message to the public” about the Police Department’s priorities.
Chicago aldermen clamoring for more police officers to ease a severe manpower shortage were equally outraged. They condemned the brow-beating tone of the memo at a time when a two-year hiring slowdown had left police officers outnumbered and residents feeling unsafe.
Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley denounced the memo as “stupid” and slapped his revenue director with a symbolic, one-day suspension.
“Stupidity. It was stupid. Just stupid. Some bureaucrat sent that out,” an embarrassed and incensed Daley said at the time.
“The Revenue Department has nothing to do with the Police Department — period. They [officers] will determine whether you violated a law. No one else can. Especially Revenue can’t.”
When Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, he merged the Revenue and Finance departments.
The decision to shift ticket-writing to LAZ marks an about-face for City Hall. Daley suspended the company’s ticket-writing powers after the botched transition to private control that left scores of meters broken, overstuffed and mismarked, infuriating motorists.