BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Illegal parking in a handicapped spot is no trifling matter. Boston issues 11,000 tickets a year, each of which carries a $120 fine and often a $93 towing charge. And it is not uncommon for passersby to loudly rebuke able-bodied drivers who use parking spots reserved for the disabled.
But violators who use the 11 handicapped-designated spaces in front of Boston Police headquarters are immune from any sanction at all – or even a sidelong glance from the scores of police officers who enter and leave the building every day, according to Globe observations over the past two months.
One repeat scofflaw: the driver of a Toyota Corolla registered to Irene Landry, the city’s supervisor of Parking Enforcement, who oversees the 194 parking enforcement officers who write 1.3 million tickets a year.
When a Globe reporter called Landry’s office on Feb. 10 to ask about the Toyota, Landry was stunned. “I will investigate,” she said. “Trust me when I tell you that.”
Within five minutes of that call, her son Anthony, a police dispatcher, and three other police officials hastened out of Police Headquarters in shirtsleeves, got into their illegally parked cars, and drove away.
Most often, all prohibited parking areas around police headquarters on Tremont Street are a penalty-free zone – scores of unmarked detective cars, police evidence vans, and personal vehicles of patrol officers and sergeants are ensconced for hours at a time in spots earmarked for the disabled, and at fire hydrants, crosswalks, day-care drop-off, and MBTA bus stops – virtually all of them marked “tow zone.”
And then there are those who park where there is no signed prohibition – on sidewalks. Or those who double-park.
Globe correspondents who kept watch at headquarters never saw a ticket written, much less a tow truck, despite a stern order in August 2007 from a senior commander who ordered that illegally parked cars be ticketed hourly.
“As a law enforcement agency with the responsibility to enforce parking regulations for the general public, visible and blatant violations of parking restrictions in the vicinity of Boston Police Headquarters are unacceptable,” read the directive from Deputy Superintendent John F. Daley.
Eighteen months later, nothing much has changed. The only ticket books seen by the Globe over the six weeks’ observation were those that officers left on the dashboards of their cars – a time-honored signal to fellow officers. Others left uniform shirts hanging in back windows.
Last Wednesday, the day after police officials learned of the Globe’s interest, a handful of tickets were tucked under the windshield wipers of some of the illegally parked vehicles – though those cars sat all day in tow zones. One, a 2003 black Lincoln Town Car registered to patrolman David M. Fitzgerald, had a police ticket book on the dashboard just under the real ticket.
On Wednesday and again on Thursday, two days after police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll called such behavior unacceptable, several cars were illegally parked in handicapped-designated spots, without tickets.
What Driscoll called unacceptable, Myra Berloff, director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability, characterized as “a flagrant abuse of the law.” All motorists, Berloff said in an interview, should be aware that people who illegally use handicapped-designated spots are making life more difficult for those with disabilities. For police officers to use such spaces, she said, is outrageous.
As the 2007 police directive suggests, what the Police Department has is a chronic condition, perceived parking immunity, for which there may be no cure. Many police officers will park where they choose at headquarters and around some of the department’s district stations, with little risk that their colleagues will treat them like ordinary motorists.
If a single phone call from Irene Landry can frighten four scofflaws into instant compliance, why not have her traffic enforcement officers, who are known for taking guff from no one, write tickets around Police Headquarters?
Not possible, said Thomas J. Tinlin, the city’s Transportation Commissioner and Landry’s boss. Under longstanding policy, he said, police officers are responsible for enforcing parking rules outside their own buildings. And, Tinlin asserted, the creation of that policy was unrelated to concerns that ticketing police officers would lead to friction between the two departments.
“It would be redundant and inefficient for our parking enforcement officers to write tickets at Police Headquarters when they have a building full of people who can write tickets as well,” said Tinlin.
An estimated 600 employees work at police headquarters, a 12-year-old building constructed a stone’s throw from the Ruggles MBTA Station, but with a parking lot that accommodates only 104 vehicles. Initial plans to construct a parking garage were abandoned as too costly, Driscoll said.
The blocklong curbside along Tremont Street has spaces for fewer than 40 vehicles, all of them subject to various parking restrictions and signs designating them as tow zones.
Some cars, like Landry’s, were regular offenders. Another frequent user of handicapped spots, David McClelland, an Emergency Medical Services dispatcher who works at Police Headquarters, acknowledged in a call he returned to a reporter that he has never been ticketed there, and said he took the risk because there is so little parking in the area.
Although the Globe saw no tickets at all during the six weeks’ observation, Driscoll said officers at headquarters wrote about 200 tickets last year in front of the building and on a side street, Prentiss Street, with many of those written for department-issued unmarked cars.
Driscoll acknowledged, however, that tickets issued to city-owned vehicles are dismissed.
“This is a consistent and complicated issue, and we’re doing our best,” Driscoll said. “There’s always room for improvement.”
On Friday afternoon, after interviewing Driscoll, a Globe reporter counted six cars illegally parked in handicapped-designated spots in front of headquarters.