Brookline cops say theyre catching up with parking-ticket delinquents

When Brookline Police towed a car with more than $1,000 in unpaid parking tickets the other day, officers found an unexpected bonus: Besides the car already impounded, the owner had two other vehicles wanted for outstanding parking tickets.
The woman, who eventually paid all the tickets on the towed car, is among a growing number of parking-ticket delinquents police have finally tracked down with the help of new high-tech devices purchased last year.
Though the department did not have specific numbers available, Chief Daniel OLeary said officers rounded up a handful of cars with more than $1,000 in unpaid tickets apiece in just the first week the new devices hit the street. I think the technology has worked extremely well, the chief said.
The system, made by a Utah-based company called Velosum Inc., allows parking officers to write tickets with a special ballpoint pen that scans the writers strokes and automatically sends whats written to the towns website. The ticket-writer can then use a cell phone to take digital images of a vehicles location, license plate and expired parking meter, for example.
Since the devices were rolled out last fall, officials said it has become much more difficult for drivers to contest a parking ticket in Brookline.
Its pretty hard to tell someone youre not parked in front of a hydrant when theres a picture, said Capt. Michael Gropman, the head of the departments transportation division.
The technology also allows parking officers to identify and locate cars with unpaid parking tickets while theyre still on the street. Once a parking officer on patrol writes a ticket, the information appears in the departments computer system in less than a minute, allowing officers to compare recently ticketed cars with those on the departments tow list and send a truck, if necessary.
Before, it could be several days before officers realized theyd issued a ticket to someone on the departments list.
In the old days, wed give officers a tow list and theyd drive around checking plates, OLeary said. Now somebody in the station can just compare the two databases.
Brookline Police have traditionally struggled to collect from parking-ticket delinquents because of the many out-of-state college students who park in town. Unlike Massachusetts residents who may have their registration or license renewal denied if they fail to pay a ticket, out-of-state drivers have few reasons to pay up.
In fact, a 2009 study by the Efficiency Initiative Committee found the town was collecting only about 65 percent of parking fines owed by drivers from outside Massachusetts, compared to 90 percent for in-state drivers.
The new technology could eventually give police an edge over out-of-staters, but Gropman said he hasnt seen a change in the collection rate so far. What Gropman has seen is a drop in the number of people who are can successfully fight a ticket.
People used to play games for a long time, he said. Now they cant play games.
At the same time, the number of parking tickets issued by the town has actually dropped. Officials in the town administrators office reported Tuesday that the number of parking tickets issued in the last half of 2009 had fallen 15 percent, or by roughly 11,000 tickets, over the year before.
Officials point to a number of factors in the decline. They noted that recently adopted commercial and residential parking permit programs mean fewer people are parking illegally, while the enforcement associated with those programs has taken some officers away from monitoring metered spaces. And then theres the economy.
People are less willing to chance getting a ticket, said Deputy Town Administrator Sean Cronin.
But Gropman also thinks people are reacting to the departments crackdown on illegal parkers. He said he recently talked to an employee in the Longwood Medical Area who got his first parking ticket the other day after years of parking illegally over the border in Brookline.
Gropman believes that sort of experience is driving more drivers to park legally.
The certainty of being caught has increased compliance, he said.
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