A Parking Enforcement Officer Is Always on Stage
By Bryan Forward and Jack Agati
Parking enforcement officers know they have a tough job. Nobody likes getting tickets, and unless they have a condition that should be addressed by a mental health professional, a parking officer doesn’t like giving tickets. It’s just their job, and gaining compliance and going home without confrontation at the end of the day is an officer’s highest hope. Sometimes it works out that way ...
BUT ... what about the one or two individuals who can ruin your shift, making life miserable for you? These folks play a game of escalating aggression and confrontation.
Level 1 begins with a plea or an innocent excuse. “I didn’t know.” “I didn’t see any signs.” “I just got here.” “I’m just leaving.”
Level 2 escalates into guilt tripping and personal digs or jabs. “Why don’t you give me a break?” “Don’t you have anything better to do?” “Why don’t you get a real job?”
Level 3 employs threats and personal attacks. “What’s your name … I’m going to call your boss and get you fired.” “You’re an A-hole!”
What do you do? Do you choose to handle the situation like characters from a popular reality show do? React, retaliating with sarcasm and threats of your own? Or do you decide to remain professional and deal with the situation in a proactive manner? At this moment, the choice is yours.
If you react, the person will then respond in a practiced manner that they have used time and again in so many similar situations when they were seeking to avoid responsibility for their actions. You’ll never win going this route.
How many complaints are generated because the parking enforcement officer did not stay objective, stay professional in the situation? You know, the “Joe Friday” approach: “Just doing my job.” The parking enforcement officer can’t allow the incident to get personal, because when an individual can get you to make it personal, they’ve got you!
Learning to deal effectively with people has an increasing need in professional parking enforcement. The growing number of incidents, hearings and public relations nightmares are tarnishing the image of parking enforcement.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when dealing with Beastly People:
1. They know what they are doing and saying.
Not only do they know, but what they’re doing is purposeful and goal directed. One goal is to exercise their control over the situation and you, thus continuing to do what they want. The other goal is to extract revenge upon a perceived hurt or injustice they feel they have experienced.
2. Use “the two truths.”
Make sure “the two truths” come into play when dealing with any individual and the situation they create:
Truth #1 –Beastly People have the right to choose how they will act. Truth #2 – They alone must be responsible and held accountable for the outcomes of their choices.
Example: It was their decision to park in a no-parking zone, and it is their consequence to pay the fine required for such a violation.
3. Avoid the trap of excuses.
Beastly People will resort to any number of excuses, successfully used in the past, to avoid these consequences. These excuses can range from “I didn’t know” to “It’s not fair.” From “It’s your fault” to “I didn’t see the sign; it was blocked.”
4. Here comes “the script.”
Failing to dissuade you from imposing the consequences, Beastly People will then begin to follow “the script,” practiced for years, in an effort to hit upon the “hook” that will finally cause you to lose your cool.
It usually starts with pleading, soon to be followed by seeing if you’re willing to bargain. If this fails, then they make it personal – starting with digs at your choice of profession, then how mean you are, finally with insults and threats.
Each step along the way is calculated to eventually engage and hook you to respond in a way that is unprofessional, and can later be perceived as a personal attack you’ve made on them, thus becoming justification for contesting the consequences (the citation and fine).
5. Turn away.
Or you might get a request for you to turn the other way, to let it go. This is a request for you to act contrary to your duty as an enforcement officer. This is an opportunity for the Beastly Person to try to gain control of the situation by telling you that it is OK for you to not do your job. You may wish to respond to such a request by saying, “Are you asking/telling me to do something that is illegal and to violate my sworn duty?”
6. “The Godfather.”
Remember, as they said in the movie “The Godfather” – “It’s not personal; it’s just business.” A process exists for appeals and hearings. It is there to protect the public and you, the enforcement officer. Let the individual use it. Let the facts speak for themselves. What is crucial is that you are consistent, above reproach and at all times professional.
Choose to follow the process, remain emotionally detached, and do your job professionally. Allow the consequences of the Beastly Person’s decisions to be the punisher. You’re just following through on the choices and decisions.
Brian Forward is Parking Enforcement Supervisor for Oceanside, CA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jack Agati is a human resources management consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Article Abstract from April, 2009