By Lisa Pett
Becky Page begins her patrol with a “10-41” call into Portage County dispatchers to indicate she is on-duty, leaving the police station and heading out into the city.
This week Page- a community service officer with the Stevens Point Police Department- is being shadowed by day shift trainee Gino Bulak. The two patrol for parking violations in a vehicle emblazoned with the city’s “Parking Enforcement” logo.
The days of meter maids, primarily female traffic officers carrying a notebook of parking tickets, are long gone. The modern-day equivalent is the community service officer.
Two part-time employees currently comprise the unit, whose job includes issuing tickets for parking violations. But they also perform administrative tasks and other services that help keep patrol officers on the streets.
Some drivers- including this reporter- who have been on the receiving end of a parking ticket might assume the CSO’s prowl the streets mercilessly searching for violators to cite. But Page and Bulak are professional and pleasant- even when they know they aren’t always welcome.
“It’s really nothing personal,” said Page. “We’re just doing our job.”
CSO shifts overlap so larger jobs, like chalking, can be done together. Chalking once entailed a meter maids literally using chalk to mark how long a vehicle has been parked in the same place. The modern method involves keeping a list of license plate numbers and recording the location of the tire’s air value stem, so if the driver leaves but returns to the same spot, the stem will visibly be in a different position.
Once they chalk a section of town, the two patrol other sections of the city head, returning two hours later.
“We usually return in two and a half hours,” said Page. “We give the drivers a bit of leeway of at least 15 minutes.”
The job also entails checking the cars parked at the city’s silver meters (UWSP meters on campus are black) and issuing citations for expired meters.
They’re not heartless about it; a sheepish driver rushed towards his vehicle just as Bulak was printing a ticket and apologized.
Bulak stopped processing the ticket.
“You have to remember to feed the meter,” he said.
The tickets are printed on a small hand-held machine called a Clancy. The officers enter the location, licence plate of the vehicle and the violation, and the ticket is then placed into a small, green envelope and tucked under the windshield wiper of the offending vehicle.
“When we get back to the station,” said Page, “a PalmPilot detaches from the Clancy and is synced with a computer to record the violations in the system.”
The cost for a parking violation is $15 within the first seven days. The charges accrue from there to $25 after eight days, $35 after 21 days and max out at $45 after 60 days.
After 60 days, the registration on the offending vehicle is suspended until the fine is paid. Multiple unpaid tickets associated with the same vehicle can be “booted”, using a large clamping device that attaches to the wheel, rendering it immobilized.
“We have had drivers with hundreds of dollars in unpaid parking tickets,” Page said. “We had to give them the boot.”
The majority of patrolled parking areas utilize a two-hour time limit, but CSO’s also need to watch for vehicles blocking fire hydrants, crosswalks and driveways.
CSO’s don’t just ticket vehicles. They also collect lost or abandoned bicycles and move them to a city storage facility, where they’re held for 90 days.
“After that, unclaimed bikes get donated,” Page said. “The mountain bikes go to an organization in Nicaragua, because they have such bad roads there. The ones that need more work we donate to Justice Works’ Shifting Gears Program.”
The CSO’s also empty the parking meters, check the drop boxes for paid fines and run errands for the police department. Recent errands included purchasing updated items for patrol cars’ first aid kits.
Twice a week, they also provide finger printing for civilians who need pre-employment screening.
“If we didn’t do that, a patrol officer would have to come in off the street to do it,” Page said.
The CSO position is a new one, and one that is changing to meet the needs of Stevens Point.
Page and Bulak work daily in all kinds of weather, doing their jobs with a friendly face and a love of the community.