A white and red receipt whirs out of the handheld ticket machine. Community Standards Officer Jessie Rogers rips it from the processor, sticks it into a white envelope and slides it under the left windshield wiper of a steel blue Toyota Matrix with Virginia plates outside of East Quad Residence Hall. It is 9:45 a.m., feels like 3 degrees below zero, and the day has barely begun.
Rogers, a city employee for 14 years, has been a community standards officer for 10. She and 12 others are the parking meter attendants who trudge up and down Ann Arbor streets Monday through Saturday. In addition to parking infraction enforcement, community standards officers deal with issues of over-littered lawns, uncut grass and – during snow season – unshoveled sidewalks.
Out in the cold
Rogers, a single mother of three who lives in public housing, began work yesterday at 8 a.m., and her shift didn’t end until 4 p.m. She was dressed like an ice fisherman – heavy duty winter boots with two pairs of socks; pantyhose, long underwear and pants; a wool sweater, thermal shirt and a jacket; thick knit gloves and a fleece-lined winter hat.
“You can never get used to 10 or 15 below,” Rogers said.
Employees won’t go out if weather conditions become too intense. Rogers chose not to go out last Monday and Tuesday due to the extreme cold.
“They want you to do the job but they don’t want you to get hurt,” she said.
The icy wind through the archway below the new School of Public Health building on Washington Heights reinforced the need to bundle up. The blustering gusts would deter any normal person from leaving a building, even if the temperature stays positive, Rogers said.
“You have to take care of yourself,” she said. “Most importantly, you have to take care of your feet.”
Over the course of 2.5 hours yesterday, Rogers covered most of the east side of campus, including main thoroughfares like East University Avenue and Hill Street. Under better conditions she would have parked in one place and spent the entire day on foot.
On frigid days like yesterday, though, it’s better to drive.
Dealing with drivers
Writing tickets does not always make Rogers the most popular person on the street.
“It’s not personal,” she said. “I don’t know whose car I’m writing a ticket to.”
Rogers said that if she is approached while writing a ticket, she isn’t going to tear it up.
“I don’t want to make them feel bad,” she said. “I just am doing my job.”
There are some who don’t appreciate her line of work. Frustrated and angered drivers often insult her.
“I have been called everything but a child of God,” she said with a laugh. “They don’t know what kind of person I am. They think we’re all just parking Nazis.”
Rogers said she is not out to get anyone, though. She doesn’t wait for meters to expire or hide behind cars to catch someone down on their luck.
“I have people say that I’m hiding behind a meter, and if you look at me you can see that’s very hard to do,” she said with a smile.
She said people parked near campus are more likely to be ticketed because students often don’t bring change with them.
She said that if people are downtown, they generally have a purpose for being there and are often more prepared.
Even so, people sometimes ask her for a few spare coins.
“If I have some on me, I’ll give them change,” she said.
The worst incident with a disgruntled driver occurred with a man whose car was being towed. He wanted to pay on the spot, but could not produce the right type of credit card. He then produced a “huge wad of cash,” Rogers said, but she couldn’t accept it.
“He just got so nasty,” she said.
The man became so irate that Rogers called the police.
Some people have developed creative ways to avoid tickets – like placing old tickets on windshields. Rogers, though, is rarely fooled.
“I usually remember the cars I ticket,” she said.
“My favorite part is some of the people I meet,” Rogers said.
Rogers has several stories about the kind people in Ann Arbor, especially University athletes.
A few years ago, she almost towed the car of Chris Perry, then a star Michigan running back who now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals. He came running out of the building right before his car would have been towed but kept his cool. Instead, he called his mom for help paying the ticket before the car was towed.
“He was just so nice about it,” Rogers said.
All in a day’s work
Rogers said she doesn’t write as many tickets now as she did when she first started her job. But it’s not because she’s gotten more lenient.
She said she thinks that people are more careful about getting tickets now. The cost of a ticket has become too expensive for many people to ignore, she said.
Rogers used to write between 175 to 200 tickets a day.
“It was just unbelievable when I first started,” she said.
Now she writes maybe 100.
The most she has ever written in a day is more than 200.
Officers patrolling areas with time-limited parking keep track of violators by marking tires with chalk. When an officer returns after the posted limit, tires that are still marked receive tickets.
Rogers prefers using sidewalk chalk because it is bigger and easier to see. If she runs out, though, there is a stash of yellow Crayola blackboard chalk in the center console of the blue Dodge Neon car that the city provides her while she’s on duty.
Chalk is also used to mark ticketed cars whose owners don’t move them in time.
When Rogers returns from her rounds, she may mark certain ticketed cars that haven’t been moved since she wrote the citation.
If the car hasn’t relocated by the time she checks back, she can issue another ticket for exceeding the allowed time limit. Meters explicitly state that even if more coins are added, a car may not stay in the same spot over its given time.
Cars on city streets can’t be left in the same spot for more than 48 hours or they can be towed by the city.
Tools of the trade
Officers use handheld ticket machines made by Casio, which replaced an antiquated version of the machine a few months ago.
To issue a ticket, an officer enters a vehicle’s license plate number, the make of the vehicle, the street, the meter number and the violation into the machine. Depending on the violation, the officer can choose to enter comments as well.
The handheld machine also has a camera. An officer can take a photo of an infraction and produce it if the ticket is appealed.
Despite being perhaps one of the most unwelcome sights on city streets, Rogers said she doesn’t mind her work.
“People think I’m crazy taking this job. But it’s worked out. I like it,” Rogers said.
If a vehicle accumulates four tickets that haven’t been paid in 22 days or more, the city of Ann Arbor can tow it.
There is a 10-minute grace period built into Ann Arbor parking meters. A community standards officer will not ticket a car whose meter reads 0:00 but is not flashing, indicating the end of the extended time.
A person who receives a ticket can contest the ticket with a parking referee. If the person isnt’t happy with the decision, he or she can request a formal or informal hearing in front of a district court judge.