Saturday, November 13, 2010

Since When Does Our Police Department Do Free Enforcement for Private Companies?

I have been meaning to write about this for ages--this and the myriad other ways that various entities--local, national, private and public--extract every possible penny they can from me and my neighbors, family, and friends.

As far as I can tell, all of these practices are immoral, and most of them are either illegal or would not stand up in court, were someone with as much money as a wealthy corporation to provide a challenge.

The photo at right shows a metered parking lot, located at approximately 399 Main Street, Malden, Massachusetts.

Like most drivers, when I see a parking spot with a parking meter, beside a big, blue public parking icon ("P"), I take it that I'm looking at public parking--whether it's on-street or in a lot.

In the case of the parking lot in question, if you parked here and your meter did in fact expire, so that you returned to your car to find a City of Malden parking ticket on your windshield, you might be aggravated to have been ticketed, but it likely wouldn't occur to you to question whether the city had a right to ticket you in the first place. Right?

Well, I'm telling you that in this lot, the city should not be ticketing you or anybody else.

Here's why. This parking lot is not a public lot. That's right; it's a privately owned lot, and all the money deposited in its meters is destined not for the City Treasury, but for a private company. I am not sure which company is the owner. I believe it's either LAZ or Fitz who, between them, have a good stranglehold on area parking. Let's say it's Fitz. In any case, it ain't the city.

So, tell me why you should be required to pay the city $15 if you are late feeding Fitz's parking meter. What city rule or ordinance have you violated? What jurisdiction could the city possibly have over parking time limits in a privately-owned parking area? What right might the Registry of Motor Vehicles possibly claim to put a hold on your ability to renew your license and thus operate a vehicle legally simply because you didn't pay parking citations wrongfully issued to you while you were parked on private property?

And why should my tax dollars be used to pay a policeman to check the meters in a private lot?

I don't know which is worse!

If Fitz wants to monitor its own lots and tow cars away when meters expire, let them. If they want to impose some kind of legal fee structure to deter parkers from not feeding their meters, fine. In that case, they can take the market consequence and see if parkers still want to park there given the extreme enforcement. But it is outrageous that a private company that is too stingy to hire its own parking lot attendants is able to avail itself of free policing on the taxpayers' tab!

And it is indefensible that while residents endure double-digit unemployment and struggle to put decent food on their tables and decent roofs over their heads, that they are once more nickle-and-dimed by their own government--in this case for dollars to which the government ought to have no legal claim whatsoever.

Here's the cherry on top. You know how I found out about this debacle? I was at the Malden police station to get a parking permit, and in the course of speaking with the officer at the window, he began quietly to complain about the wrongs of parking in Malden. It was this officer who told me that the parking lot on Main Street does not even belong to the city, that all the officers know it, and that they resent being made to ticket residents who are parked there.

The officer, who asked not to be named, wondered aloud how many cumulative police hours are wasted patrolling that lot as a freebie for Fitz that could otherwise have been used to do something actually related to public safety or improving, not deteriorating, the quality of life of Malden's residents.

What do you think? Is there any possible justification for the city's issuing public parking tickets to cars parked on private property?


  1. The police do have authority to enforce the law on private property of course, but this seems like systematic misappropriation of police resources. Getting city workers to function as your collections department keeps them from working for the city. I'd be interested to know how much the company is compensating the city for this service as opposed to hiring their own workers for it.

  2. Yes, police absolutely have the right to enforce the law while on private property. But letting a meter expire in a private lot seems not to violate any laws.

    My guess would be that the lot owners don't give the city a dime, but just offload the cost to their parking customers by allowing the police onto their property to ticket parkers. The city then collects those fines, pats itself on the back for some easy money made, and willfully ignores the fact that they are both abusing their power and simply stealing from the people they ticket.