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Technology aids parking enforcement in Spokane

Spokane Parking Enforcement officer Bryan Schertz works a collection route along Main Avenue in downtown Spokane, Aug. 20. (Colin Mulvany)
Spokane Parking Enforcement officer Bryan Schertz works a collection route along Main Avenue in downtown Spokane, Aug. 20. (Colin Mulvany)

For downtown shoppers and diners, being late can mean finding the dreaded yellow envelope stuffed under a windshield wiper.

Parking Enforcement Officer Bryan Schertz said there is a reason there are parking meters in the downtown core. He said on holidays when parking is free downtown, it’s hard to find a place. If parking was free all the time, there would never be anywhere to park.

“I think we do serve a purpose,” he said.

Parking enforcement officers don’t just patrol downtown streets looking for expired meters. Officers drive through parking lots throughout the city checking for cars parked illegally in handicapped-accessible spaces. They also check for drivers who are parked too close to driveways, alleys or stop signs. They look for cars parked facing traffic, cars that are partially parked in a crosswalk and they check out complaints from neighbors about cars parked inappropriately in the neighborhood. They’ll also issue tickets if they notice the registration tabs on a parked car have expired.

Schertz recently patrolled the parking lot of Wal-Mart on Wellesley Avenue. He checks to see if disabled placards are clearly displayed and valid. If the driver is around, he introduces himself and asks to see their card that says they are the person who owns the placard.

Officers can issue eight to 20 tickets a day for cars illegally parked in handicapped-accessible spots – a $450 fine.

In Wal-Mart’s parking lot, Schertz introduced himself to Jeremy Sacksteder who was parked in a disabled spot.

“I’ll show you my card, sir,” Sacksteder told him. He is often asked – he looks fit, but he’s had eight knee surgeries and his doctor recommended he get the placard.

“I’m just always ready,” Sacksteder said of showing his identification.

Schertz said he is often thanked by placard-carrying drivers for checking to see if theirs is valid and he said there is very little wiggle room for folks who have been caught with an expired placard, someone else’s placard or no placard at all.

“We write a lot of tickets,” he said. Schertz said parking enforcement officers often receive more arguments about $15 tickets for an expired meter than they do for violations of disabled parking spots.

The department recently purchased a new Ford Focus with cameras positioned on the roof and sides of the vehicle. It can capture license plate numbers at a speed of 25 to 30 mph, as well as photos of the parked cars’ tires. If a second trip through downtown captures a plate of a car that has been in a spot for longer than the meter’s limit, a computer on-board the parking vehicle will alert the officer. Schertz can check before and after photos of the tires and he notes the location of the valve. If it is in the same position, the car might get a citation.

Parking meter foreman John Ashwood said the vehicle also will be a help to the department in recognizing those with unpaid parking tickets.

Last week, the department placed a parking boot on a car belonging to someone who owed more than $4,000 in parking fines. The boot locks the car’s wheel in place. After a car gets the boot, the driver has 48 hours to pay the fines before the city tows it away. The city has more than 18,000 citations worth about $900,000 that have been sent to collections.

Schertz was collecting change in parking meters last month before the boots were officially in use. He checks the meters to see if the time has expired. If it has, he’ll issue a ticket.

“This one’s on my boot list,” he said after entering the plate into his handheld device. He has a list he can check and notices the car has $600 worth of unpaid parking tickets. It was before the boots went into use, so Schertz just issued a ticket.

He said if someone comes out while he’s issuing a ticket, if they put money into the meter, he’ll often let it go. Sometimes, however, people come out shouting.

“Attitude goes a long way,” Schertz said.