Magazine

Good Public Relations: How It Affects Productivity of Parking Enforcement Officers

Kaye S. Beechum

I supervised a parking enforcement officer once who thought it was all about numbers. He wrote well over 100 tickets on some days when most other officers averaged 50 to 60.
Whenever he was called by dispatch to respond to a citizen's complaint or to direct traffic, he never answered his radio. Whenever I went to his assigned beat, I could not find him on patrol.
In discussing this with him, he always said: "Well, I wrote 106 tickets today, so I took a little break."
I had a difficult time convincing him it was about more than just the number of tickets; it was about serving the community and being available when he was needed.
In checking his tickets, I discovered he was writing them all in the first few hours of his shift, then doing no more work the remainder of the day. I never discovered where he went, but I am certain he was not working or providing service to the community -- a function for which he was being paid.
When we talk of productivity and parking enforcement at the same time, we of course, are generally referring to money and revenue. Is there another definition of productivity? When gauging the productivity of our parking enforcement personnel, is there also something else we are looking for? Or is it always about money?
Is it wise to tell your Parking Officers that their main purpose is to generate revenue? What are the pitfalls when you do that?
True, you may get a large number of tickets when you tell officers it is about numbers, but not always. Some officers may balk at this and feel pressured.
Supervisors that feel it is all about numbers may hesitate to counsel an employee for any other poor performance if the officer "writes a lot of tickets." So an officer may feel he/she can get away with anything -- such as poor attendance, poor grooming, poor interpersonal relations -- as long as the numbers are maintained.
Some of the other pitfalls will be carelessness, errors, poor public relations and even possibly falsification of citations. It will all become a numbers game. And in the end, all the citations will not necessarily be collectible.
When an officer is rushing to write as many tickets as possible, he or she may be rude to a citizen who just needs directions or would like to know where to park legally or how to pay a ticket already received. When an officer feels pressure to write a given number of tickets he or she may not offer a driver an opportunity to move or to put change in the meter. Officers feeling pressured to write a given number of tickets may fight each other over "I saw the car first."
It always goes back to the primary reasons for parking enforcement: safety, quality of life and vehicle turnover. If we all agree to this premise, then we know it is really about serving our customers, rather than just bringing in revenue.
The general public does not really understand that if we did not have parking regulations and did not enforce them, the streets in most cities and universities would be chaos, making it even more difficult to find safe and convenient parking.
Knowing that the public does not understand and, as a result, that enforcement personnel everywhere are not well-liked -- or let's face it, are even hated -- is it not then our responsibility to encourage our officers to concentrate on being pleasant and friendly wherever possible?
How do we accomplish this? Do we tell our officers not to write tickets or to cancel them when citizens complain? Not really, although an officer should be given some leeway to make a decision if a citizen is running to the car to move it or to put money in the meter.
Basically, however, we accomplish this by training our officers in the fine art of good public relations. Tell them the importance of the function they perform in the community. Tell them it is not only acceptable but required for them to be pleasant and smile once in a while. it is ok to answer questions politely when citizens are lost.
The officers should be knowledgeable about the contesting process -- and I don't mean, "If you don't like it, take it to court" or "Go to the office; they will probably cancel the ticket for you." I mean explain the actual process, what number to call, how to follow up and what the anticipated outcome may be.
When an officer knows how to look and behave professionally, then he or she is more likely to gain respect in the community and, as a result, will feel much better about the work he or she performs.
When an individual prepares for a day's work and is looking forward to being at work -- rather than just "I've gotta go to work, it's a job, and I need the money" -- this individual will be happier, more motivated and more productive.

Kaye S. Beechum, a former head of parking enforcement for the City of Los Angeles, is a consultant and owner of KSB Services. She can be reached at kbeechum@ksbservices.com.

Article Abstract from October, 2003




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