‘Law & Order’
Parking vs. Pop Culture is a series of articles dedicated to significant parking references found in pop culture. The winner, either parking or pop culture, will be determined by whether the parking ended as a positive or negative experience in the particular pop culture reference. This issue’s parking reference is taken from an episode of NBC-TV’s original “Law & Order” series.
The crime and court TV series “Law & Order” was canceled last May, having spanned two decades and more than 450 episodes. A 20-year run on television makes the series the longest-running prime-time crime drama in U.S. TV history.
To give some perspective on what an accomplishment that is, think back to September 1990, when L&O premiered.
That year, 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin screamed in the mirror in ”Home Alone,” the biggest grossing movie at the box office. “Roseanne” was the No. 1 show on TV. President George H.W. Bush sent U.S. troops to Kuwait in the first Gulf War.
Yes, the year that teens were wearing their jeans French-rolled is the same one that gave birth to one of TV’s biggest franchises. Or as Tracy Jordan described it on NBC’s “30 Rock” after hearing about L&O’s cancellation: “Why? It was a tent pole! A tent pole!”
The genius behind “Law & Order” was in its formula. Take a good story, add half police procedural, half courtroom drama, reduce those pesky character arcs, and you’ve got an episode! The rest is panache.
The plot could be made up or “ripped from the headlines”; the ending could be straight, twisted, broken or bent. Those things didn’t matter, as long as it wrapped up in an hour. That’s why it’s easy to plop down on the couch, turn on cable’s TNT and watch a rerun from, say, the middle of Season 11.
Speaking of which, in that season’s Episode 7, titled “Amends,” a 20-year-old murder case involving the slaying of a teenage girl is reopened, with the spoiled son of a politically connected family as the prime suspect.
After reopening the case, the L&O team finds that evidence was intentionally destroyed, so they slowly try to put the case back together. It isn’t until a parking ticket issued near the scene of the crime is discovered that the team can finally pin the murder on the prime suspect and close the case.
Taking real stories from the newspaper headlines was often a way the creators of “Law & Order” found fodder for plot details. The idea of using a parking ticket to close a big case was more than likely borrowed from a headline, since this has happened on several occasions.
In an article in the IPI’s Parking Professional magazine, titled “The Parking Ticket Heard Round the World,” this PT feature’s co-author Mouw told the story of a parking ticket issued by NYPD officers Mike Cataneo and Jeff Logan that ultimately led to the capture of the “Son of Sam” serial killer.
David Berkowitz, aka “Son of Sam,” murdered six people and wounded seven others over a 12-month period, all while eluding the New York City authorities. It wasn’t until 1977, when officers Cataneo and Logan wrote a ticket on a yellow Ford Galaxie, belonging to Berkowitz, parked too close to a fire hydrant near the scene of his latest kill, that detectives were able to connect the dots and put an end to the serial killings.
This particular parking ticket made news around the world, but situations such as this happen more often than people realize, as the “Amends” episode of “Law & Order” points out.
Today, the first thing detectives often do when trying to solve a case is search the parking tickets issued near the scene of the crime.
Hal King, Executive Director of the Springfield (MA) Parking Authority, said that when he was in Illinois, “many times the detective bureau of the Evanston Police Department would contact us and ask us to run a license plate through the ticketing system.
“When you’re looking for a fugitive or a felon, they’re usually not walking,” King said. “If you know where the car is, you might find where they lay their head at night. If they keep getting tickets in certain areas, you shrink the amount of real estate you have to cover to find them. I think it worked once, and that’s why [the Evanston detectives] kept coming back, looking for that second strike of lightning.”
Studies estimate 10,000 tickets are issued in the U.S. every 60 seconds. Unfortunately, millions of these tickets are mocked, scrutinized, criticized, torn up and thrown away. So, anytime a ticket is displayed positively in Pop Culture, as it was in the “Law & Order” episode, it’s good for the parking industry, which is why parking wins this round.
Isaiah Mouw, who works for Republic Parking System, can be contacted at email@example.com. Ben Bronsink, Co-founder of snobbyreviews.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.