Since I started in February (it is now April) I have sent in 74 reports on accessible parking violations. For those who don't know what that means, it means people parking in the disabled parking spaces. We prefer to call it accessible parking because access is what it's all about. 74 violations in a small city like Monroe, Louisiana in the span of 2 months feels like a lot to me. And I got them in an even shorter span of time, if you think about it. I only went out maybe once a week, sometimes twice. My route that I established for myself takes only about 90 minutes. I looked at my progress on the website (yep, you can totally check your progress) and counted the days. I went out exactly 17 days.
So, in reality, that's 74 violations in 17 days. Think about it.
What I want to talk about today is what to do if someone catches you taking down information. People react defensively and you will want to keep your cool and not wind up in a confrontation.
Confrontations not only don't do much to convince violators but can become dangerous and actually hurt the program. That last thing any partnering community wants, is anyone taking the law into their own hands or putting themselves into unnecessary danger.
In all of those encounters that I have had, only a very few have caught me. Maybe 5 or 6. That's just a matter of timing. One thing is for sure, nothing is worth and argument, so walk away. I mean it, just turn and walk away. Even if that means you don't finish sending in the report. It's not worth it.
So what kind of experiences have I had? When first getting started, I had an elder man and his young daughter (I'm assuming she was his daughter), catch me in the parking lot a few feet away from the back of their small car. He yelled and said he had every right to be there (he must have seen me on the news). So I asked where his placard was. He admitted he didn't have one and called me some choice names. I suggested that 3 dollars and a doctors note would fix that for him. He called me some more nasty names and told his daughter to back over me. I walked away.
Honestly, I shouldn't have bothered. I should have just said, "Sorry taking a call." and walked away. He wouldn't have had any idea if I was or not. Seriously, play it off as doing something else.
When you are taking down info, you should probably take down the plate number first and then take the photos, just so you have some of the difficult stuff out of the way first. Then, once you have the photos you can totally step away to a good distance to finish the rest.
On another stop I had a woman who had nothing to do with the situation come up and start questioning me. She acted really odd and circled me like a shark continuously asking me "what's wrong? Is something wrong?" over and over again. She was just weird. But I thought, hey, maybe someone who would be interested in volunteering, so I explained it to her. Big mistake. She stalled me long enough for an angry driver to come out and teamed up with that woman to berate me loudly in the parking lot. The lesson, trust your gut. Don't let anyone stall you in the middle of what your doing. If someone seems weird, get away from them or play them off like you would anyone else. I still get a shiver when I think of how bizarre that woman was.
Everything from an educational standpoint. I have had one or two people who were more interested in the educational side. These were people who already had a placard, but it was hidden under dashboard debris or left on the seat of the car. They took interest when I said that putting their placard where it can be clearly seen actually helps our cause. They even moved them to a more visible place right in front of me. But I did not go out of my way to engage them. And I also pointed out that having them as volunteers would be very helpful. Don't know if they took up on it, but it was worth a try since we were in dialogue already.
Basically, don't go out of your way to engage anyone while you are taking down a report on the app. If I want to try and recruit, I ask "would you be interested in volunteering"? But I don't do that out in parking lots unless a conversation allows for it naturally. I use social media.
Another good thing, if you can get enough people in your area involved, is that Parking Mobility will do a training course with you and "certify" you. See my last post on what you need to do in order to get partnered with your community through Parking Mobility.
Look; basically think of yourself as James Bond without the action heroics. All you are doing is gathering data quickly, quietly and safely to support the cause of cleaning up accessible violations in your area. Everyone deserves access to groceries, shops, and health care. People who violate that parking are taking way from someone who not only needs that space, but took the responsibility to go through the steps to park legally. I've seen some interesting tricks people will use to sidestep those same responsibilities.
ID on the dashboard: No placard and no plate means a violation. Your ID won't cut it.
Leaving someone to guard the car: That just makes you stand out. And we don't have to get close in most cases thanks to the good ol zoom feature on our smart phones.
Parking on the crosslines: Sorry that someone else got there first, but even with a placard, you can't park there. The crosslines are for wheel chair accessibility and safety in leaving and approaching the parking spaces.
Take two (or all of them): With just one vehicle. I know you don't want your new car scratched, but come on. Before I started using the app, I came across and elder man who parked his car across, not one, not two, but three accessible parking spaces. That's insane and would have been worthy of reporting. He didn't have a placard either.
So, the idea, to reiterate, is to safely gather the data and send it in. Don't get into confrontations and if approached, play it off. You can claim technical difficulties on your phone or something, but just walk away. Use distance where ever you can when using the app. You can zoom in with your phone from as far as another aisle away. It will look like you are taking a general parking lot photo. Then you can claim you are just taking down general data on parking spaces or something.
And one more tip: If the media wants to talk to you, refer them to the source. Media attention is fine, but it's best if your community is already partnered or you have them talk to Parking Mobility directly.