What are Saturation Patrols and How Do They Affect Parking in a Positive Way?
Some time back, I was talking with a manager of a parking operation who was having trouble finding someone he could trust to manage a very lucrative parking lot in a large city near a federal courthouse. At this same time, my husband, David, was transitioning out of a 30+ year career in law enforcement and was looking for a new path. To make a long story short, my husband is now in his 5th year in the parking industry.
One day, when I was reviewing data analytics for this parking lot, I noticed that the revenue numbers were up, car counts were up, citation collection rate was higher, but citation issuing was down. In addition, the appeals rate was lower, and there were a lot fewer complaints about safety concerns like lighting conditions, cleanliness, and even harassment from the homeless population.
So, what had changed? This parking lot was doing well before he stepped in, but now it was outperforming every other parking lot in the region.
I took these new data points to David and asked what he was doing to get these kinds of results. His answer was simple, I am using a law enforcement tactic called Saturation Patrol. I had never heard of this technique, so I went into research mode, and here is what I found.
Defining Saturation Patrols
Throughout the year, police departments across the U.S. use initiatives that increase awareness and enforcement of the laws against things such as driving while intoxicated. This is often referred to as saturation patrols.
A saturation patrol is a police or military patrol tactic wherein many officers are concentrated into a small geographic area. Saturation patrols are used for hot-spot crime reduction, DUI checkpoints, and other location-specific patrols.
For instance, a police department may have more officers patrolling high traffic areas during holiday weekends because there are typically more drunk drivers on the road during a special occasion when people are attending parties and celebrating. Announcing the time of a saturation patrol in advance, and the number of resulting arrests afterward, is part of the strategy in the hopes that it will discourage people from drinking and driving. In addition to reducing the number of impaired drivers on our roadways, these programs deter crime in the areas they are patrolling and increase resident safety.
What Does Parking Saturation Look Like?
The two main elements that are associated with the saturation patrols are high visibility and a publicity strategy to help educate the public and promote voluntary compliance.
For the visibility element David did the following:
During peak ingress and egress times, there was always a staff member in uniform on the lot talking with customers while performing mundane tasks like picking up trash, sweeping/cleaning, enforcement, or machine maintenance. The key was that the person was always in a very distinct visible uniform.
During non-peak times, employees would conduct a visual assessment during routine visits to the lot for enforcement or on their way to another location. What made them visible was that each truck and/or employee vehicle was equipped with a yellow caution light that magnetically attached to the roof of a vehicle. Each employee was given one and asked that anytime they were driving through the location to place it on their roof and turn it on.
With the staff “highly visible” to the public, it acted as a deterrent to customers who did not want to pay for parking and thought they could get in and out of the lot before enforcement returned.
Graffiti and vandalism decreased because there were so many random times during the day that a staff member was visible. For the parking patrons who visited on a regular basis there was a feeling of safety because they knew that there was someone going through the lot/garage on a regular basis.
Educate the Public
To educate the public, David did the following:
For parking patrons, the main way that he promoted his saturation patrols was to make sure everyone on his staff knew how important it was to say a greeting to anyone they passed while at work. When you engage with a person verbally, they are more likely to comply with rules. Employees were required to say a greeting of “Hello, how are you? Can I help you?” etc. to each person they met.
Another strategy was the way in which staff handled homeless people who would regularly walk through or loiter in a garage or lot. Staff were trained to always try to approach the individual before they approached any customers. Rather than be stern with them and demand that they leave property, staff would politely ask them to not bother their customers and offer them food, such as a breakfast bar, or snack (each employee was given a box of non-perishables that they would keep with them for these occasions).
Then the employee would walk with them and make small talk until they were off property. In the winter, staff would provide warm coats (donated by parking patrons) to those that came through.
In return, they were asked to be respectful of the customers. The respect and kindness David and his staffed showed caused them to show the same kindness and respect in return.
I would provide some caution on this second point as David had years of experience in dealing with homeless people and those with mental illness, so the training he provided was very detailed.
I would recommend that if you decide to try this, that you have a professional provide necessary training.
The outcome and effectiveness of a saturation patrol technique is in the data, as was the case with David. From increasing revenue and collection rates, to decreasing appeals and citations issued, it is clear that this program is working.
This facility is now the top producer in the region with the fewest complaints. Customers frequently voice how much they love their parking lot, and many actively participate in giving back by donating to the coat drive each year.
It’s amazing to see not only the significant improvements to the bottom line, but also how these strategies have truly helped to bring the community together.
Katherine Beaty is VP of Implementation at tez technology – she can be reached at Katherine @teztechnology.com