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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz

Orange is the new hate?

Parking checker provides insight on the job we love to hate


This will most certainly sound like a "first world problem," but one of life's most annoying experiences is getting a parking ticket. Especially if you didn't notice the sign, really believed you were far enough away from the corner or let the meter run over by just a few minutes.

Because of past experiences and a general dislike of "parking checkers" in our society, even the sight of the small, boxy vehicles can almost cause a spontaneous reflex of the middle finger.

The City of Milwaukee employs 56 Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs). Currently, there are 31 males and 25 females on staff according to Department of Public Works Communications Manager Sandy Rusch Walton.

It's not an easy or a glamorous job, but one that is sometimes misunderstood.

"Our PEOs do not have quotas," says Walton.

In an effort to better understand the role of the PEO, OnMilwaukee.com sat down with Brian (he requested that his last name be withheld) and asked him about what it's like to be the person no one wants to come in contact with while he's on the job.

OnMilwaukee.com: How long have you had the job?

Brian: I began my career with the City of Milwaukee in August 2005.

OMC: What attracted you to the job?

B: Honestly, I needed the job! The city was looking for third shift officers and since I was planning to go back to school during the day, working third shift would be ideal for me.

I didn't know for sure if I would be good at this job, but I had always worked directly with people and thought my personality would be a good fit.

OMC: What is the most challenging aspect of the job?

B: Most challenging would be working with irate people. Their first question is usually "Why did I get this ticket?" My job is to defuse the situation. I read the citation details with them, explain their offense, educate them on the parking and traffic laws and answer any other questions.

Often I find that the parker hasn't read the ticket before they sound off. Once we talk about the issue calmly and matter-of-factly, more often than not we end the conversation in a much better mood than when we started.

OMC: How do people usually react when you tell them what your job is?

B: (Laughs) I sometimes describe myself as "the person you love to hate." I am very comfortable with the job I perform. People use me as a resource to ask questions about parking rules. I find that maybe 80 percent of people that I meet actually appreciate the work that PEOs do.

OMC: Are people rude to you on the job?

B: (Laughs) I have had my share of expletives shouted at me, or someone giving me "the finger" – and not necessarily because I wrote them a ticket. They see me and just act out.

Often people yell at me to "get a real job!"

Another gentleman told me to "Get my eyes checked!" after I wrote him a citation for not properly displaying his day parking permit. The permit was covered with other paper on his dashboard. Once again, I try to diffuse each situation.

OMC: Do people often try to argue with you while you are in the middle of writing a ticket? How do you handle that?

B: If I'm in the process of writing a citation and the citizen has a justified reason for why I should not issue that citation, I will not issue it. But once the ticket is issued, it stands. I inform parkers who are arguing with me how to contest the citation, and I also take the opportunity to educate them on how to avoid getting a citation in the future.

OMC: What else do you want people to know about being a parking checker?

B: PEOs do a lot of good, and the majority of people know that. Many people thank me for my hard work, and are especially appreciative of the information that I provide them.

OMC: What advice do you have for people to avoid getting parking tickets?

B: Be aware of parking and traffic rules, whether you're parking at a meter or other timed area or parking overnight on the street. Read the posted signs and, if you have a question, call 286-CITY or go to the DPW website for more information. Parking checkers are always happy to answer your questions too.

OMC: Have you gotten a parking ticket in the past year?

B: No, I have not.

Talkbacks

BeardMoney | June 30, 2014 at 1:24 p.m. (report)

Here's something to keep in mind about this job. They do something that requires a very limited skill set and pays far above minimum wage, even at the entry level--beyond that some of them are making $15-$22 an hour. What do they do that merits this pay? Drive slowly? Enter data into a basic computerized system? Occasionally exert the effort needed to walk one or two blocks? None of these are in demand skills. No, the thing they do which justifies their wage is they absorb copious amounts of hatred for working for a corrupt system. (And if you want to argue that this system isn't corrupt, spend a couple months living in a crowded neighborhood without a parking spot. After your second or third "Parked in excess of 2 Hours" ticket, then see if you still want to get on your soap box about "entitlement".) These people are the public faces of a despicable institution. That is the sole reason their bank account is elevated beyond that of a gas station cashier. So hate them all you want. Curse their name. Extend that middle finger. Spit in their path. These gestures are built into their wage. In fact, to not do so devalues their position. If we reasonably recognize that the true villains lie beyond those boxy vehicles, if we acknowledge that these are just students using the job as a means to a greater end or unambitious schlubs who simply lack the intelligence to pave their living in any other way, if we make these conceits, then we are taking food away from their families. We are taking shoes off their children's feet, as our venom seeds their fortune.

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Jimmy_Jones | May 28, 2014 at 9:44 p.m. (report)

Wow, more sour grapes about getting parking tickets for violating parking rules... my heart goes out to you.

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wheretopark1 | May 28, 2014 at 4:38 p.m. (report)

Yes, we all appreciate the revenue generation for the city, despite no "quotas". If we get rid of parking tickets, where else where we get the $2M in revenue? Wait, never mind, parking tickets generate $30M in a year in revenue. Just obey the parking rules that's all. Like the arbitrary enforcement of why did I never get a parking ticket before in that spot. There's also the time I got a parking ticket for my permit being upside down & backwards when it was clearly not. Plus, why do you need 15 feet from a crosswalk and 10 feet from a driveway? Yes, we so appreciate a service that is so valuable and necessary. Bonus points if you get someone towed too!

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Stash | May 28, 2014 at 8:54 a.m. (report)

When I used to work in downtown, MKE, I would get parking tickets all the time because I parked illegally, usually on the west side of Wells St. Fair enough. What really bugged me were the three door dings on my car that had blue paint on them which just so happened to be at the same level as the blue stripe on the parking checker Jeeps. I also noticed that the parking checker that would frequently patrol the area didn't get out of her Jeep to put tickets on vehicles. She just leaned out of the Jeep and/or opened the door (into parked vehicles). I called the Police and it was DPW's problem. I called DPW and it was for the Police to resolve.

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RP_MKE | May 27, 2014 at 5:59 p.m. (report)

Thank you for writing the article and for seeking understanding by sitting down with one of the citys parking checkers. I personally have experienced the same emotions as anyone else whos gotten a parking ticket but with only a few exceptions theyve all been justified tickets because I violated the parking rules. Im very thankful for parking checkers because theyre job does matter. Im impressed that they are able to do it despite the fact that people are often angry at them or hate them. I know from previous law enforcement (Police) experience that other law enforcement agencies have used parking tickets that have been written by parking checkers to solve much larger crimes and its used more often than one might think. I find it so interesting that this type of a job (a government job that has authority to penalize citizens) is actually mentioned in the bible in Romans 13. Its astonishingly relevant to the relationship between people and parking checkers and is best read in context but I copied and pasted one of the verses, "Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. It goes on to say that if we love one another, then penalties wouldnt even be an issue. I am not a parking checker and never have been but I personally thank them when I see them and tell them I appreciate them and what they do even though I dont like getting parking checkers. I have seen some checkers close to tears and stunned when I tell them this because theyre used to people talking down on them as if they are scum. Theyre just like you and me.

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