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Police Are Told to Curb Their Illegal Parking

Traffic: City officials say a space crunch near criminal courthouse has been resolved and tell officers to stop leaving cars in the red zone.

July 20, 2002|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The motorists who have been parking illegally next to the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles can't plead ignorance of the law.

After all, they are cops.

Because of persistent overcrowding near the downtown Civic Center, some law enforcement officers attending trials in the courthouse have been parking in a no-stopping zone along Broadway between 1st and Temple streets for several months.

At the request of City Hall and LAPD officials, parking enforcement officers have given cops a break, issuing only warnings to badge-wearing violators. But city officials say the parking problem has been resolved, and the grace period is over: Parking enforcement officers vow to begin Tuesday to cite and tow all illegally parked police cars.

"We should not see officers parked there anymore," said Adena Tessler, an aide to Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who helped resolve the parking crunch.

The illegally parked cars force northbound traffic on Broadway to merge from three lanes to two.

On Friday morning, a row of about 20 police cars lined the red curb next to the courthouse. Two signs attached to street lights next to the courthouse offer this added warning: "Law enforcement 'E' plates and all others will be impounded."

The windshields on several of the police vehicles were adorned with yellow notices from the parking enforcement bureau, warning that "future violations will result in citations."

Still, police officers who parked at the red curb said they were surprised to learn of the city's plans to target them. Some officers argued that the no-parking zone does not apply to them because they were on official police business.

One officer insisted that the sign expressly exempts enforcement vehicles. When a reporter pointed to the sign, noting that it clearly warns that law enforcement cars will be impounded, the officer responded: "That's all a matter of interpretation." He then drove away.

None of the officers spotted parking illegally identified themselves to a reporter. "Call us Starsky and Hutch," joked a Los Angeles Police detective as he and his partner got out of their patrol car.

LAPD Sgt. John Pasquariello said the department issued a notice in June, instructing all police officers attending court hearings to park in a designated lot across the street from the courthouse. The lot, owned by Los Angeles County, has 100 spaces set aside for law enforcement officers.

Pasquariello said law enforcement officers can also park at metered spaces without paying, but they cannot ignore other parking laws unless they are responding to an emergency call.

Attending a court hearing does not qualify as an emergency, he added.

Why are officers still parking illegally next to the courthouse?

"The message doesn't always get down to the people who need it," Pasquariello said.

Officers who are cited in the future will be responsible for paying the tickets out of their own pockets, said Jimmy Price, the city's chief of parking enforcement.

Parking has always been tight in downtown Los Angeles, particularly around the Civic Center. Parking spaces became even more elusive after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted city officials to eliminate dozens of spaces deemed dangerously close to government buildings.

In the past, police have complained that the 100 spaces set aside for law enforcement often fill up quickly and that officers who left to eat lunch or pick up a witness were not guaranteed a spot when they returned.

But that problem was resolved last month, when Miscikowski's office and county officials designed a parking validation system that allows police who park in the lot to return after leaving.

Mitzi Grasso, president of the Police Protection League, the union that represents the LAPD rank and file, said the parking shortage around the courthouse has been an ongoing problem. But she said that does not exempt police officers from the city's parking restrictions. Grasso said she plans to issue a warning in an upcoming union newsletter, telling police not to park illegally.

Still, several officers who parked illegally next to the courthouse said the lack of available spaces leaves them no option but to park in the no-parking zone.

"Where can we park?" asked one LAPD detective who declined to give his name.

When a reporter noted that parking enforcement officials promised to cite and tow all illegally parked vehicles next week, another detective angrily responded: "They should impound all the police cars so that when there is an emergency we can all walk there."

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