If experience has taught that you can often double-park your car on a downtown Albany street, run a quick errand and get back before you get a ticket, you might want to continue circling the block. Illegal parking in the city is getting a whole lot riskier, thanks to one major change by the Albany Police Department that’s already in effect, and another change that’s soon to debut.
Late last year, and with no fanfare, the police department changed the way it responds to complaints about illegally parked vehicles. Historically, police officers had been dispatched on such calls; now, the uniformed civilian “traffic safety aides”—who also work for the police department—are the first responders to routine complaints about parking violations. If a traffic safety aide is not available, a patrol car will still respond, but for the vast majority of these calls, it will be a traffic safety aide ticketing your car.
Traffic-safety-aide vehicles are already a familiar sight in Albany. The blue, orange and white vans are also popularly known as “bootmobiles,” because in addition to having the power to ticket and tow illegally parked cars, traffic safety aides can also immobilize a vehicle for unpaid parking tickets with the wheel lock known as a “boot.”
The new dispatching policy means that more patrol officers are freed for urgent calls, while residents should see a faster response to “quality of life” complaints about illegally parked cars. Police Chief Steven Krokoff said he realizes that such calls often of necessity end up at the bottom of a patrol officer’s priority list, because an assault is going to take precedence over a car parked on the wrong side of the street. At the same time, residents can be driven crazy by an illegally parked car that keeps them from getting into their own driveway. And illegally parked cars can become a public safety issue if they block a hydrant.
“What I’m looking to do is see how we can be more responsive,” Krokoff said.
The other big change: Krokoff has just added four new public safety officers to the police department roster, bringing the total to 19. The public safety officers—who are also uniformed civilians—walk assigned beats during daytime hours and issue tickets to illegally parked cars or cars that have overstayed their time at a meter. The four new public safety officers will be assigned to work “off shifts”—most likely nights and possibly weekends—and will be in vehicles instead of on foot, so that they can bolster the department’s response to illegal parking.
Krokoff said he started examining the problem of illegally parked cars in the city at all hours, after receiving an impassioned letter from a resident. The letter pointed out that nights and weekends are a prime time for people to leave cars illegally parked for hours or even days, a practice that could prevent emergency vehicles from getting down streets.
“This is not a revenue grab; this is the department trying to be more responsive,” Krokoff said.
The question of whether the changes will result in more tickets and more revenue can’t yet be answered. Officer Steven Smith, the Albany Police Department spokesman, said the dispatching change has not resulted in more tickets, but simply more time for police officers to respond to more serious calls. James VanApeldorn, the director of the Parking Violations Bureau in the city treasurer’s office, who oversees the parking revenue, said that anecdotally it seems like more tickets are being issued. Last year, the city collected $4.2 million in parking violation revenue; a clear picture of whether the recent changes will increase that number probably won’t be known for several more months.
Richard Conti, the 6th Ward Common Council member whose ward includes most of Hudson/Park and Center Square, credits Krokoff with making good use of available resources. The changes in parking policy by the police come as the city prepares to begin a resident permit-parking system, which could be in place by the fall.
Rich Berkley, president of the Hudson/Park Neighorhood Association, said that the police also seem more responsive to neighborhood concerns about poor driving. He recently spoke to some Albany officers about motorists who run red lights and who also engage in another time-honored Albany habit: backing their cars up the entire length of a street to grab a parking space, instead of driving around the block to pull into it properly. Berkley said he was surprised when the officers urged him to set up a meeting with them to work on solutions.
“That’s something I’ve never heard before,” Berkley said.