Federal appellate judges have ruled parking enforcement officers are violating the constitutional rights of people when they mark vehicle tires with chalk, but new technology may make the practice obsolete.
The ruling Monday by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reverses a lower court’s decision in favor of Saginaw, Mich. where a woman filed a lawsuit after receiving her 15th parking ticket in a three-year period.
The three-judge panel compared the practice of marking a tire with chalk to putting a GPS tracker on a vehicle without a warrant, which has been determined to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.
The ultimate outcome of the case could change policies and practices in many communities across the state, including Xenia, where people who work downtown refer to the parking enforcement officer as “Chalky.”
Xenia Capt. Chris Stutes said earlier this year city leaders decided to start using “E-chalk,” a handheld monitor that enables an officer to photograph a tire and use the air valve stem position to determine if a vehicle has been parked too long at a spot.
Stutes said the system was ordered about three weeks ago, and it will be more efficient than physically marking a tire. He said they are also looking at what other communities are doing, such as marking the pavement beside a vehicle.
“By far the most complaints I receive are about parking,” Stutes said. “(Parking enforcement) is what keeps traffic flowing downtown and enables others to park.”
Xenia Law Director Donnette Fisher said the Michigan case is not over and there may be exceptions that would allow governments to continue chalking tires.
“The court decided that chalking a tire is an illegal search. Are there any exceptions to the warrant that would allow that? We don’t know that yet,” Fisher said.
In some cases involving public safety, there are exceptions to the Fourth Amendment, such as when a disabled vehicle that’s causing a traffic problem is towed away, Fisher said.
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People who work in downtown Xenia find ways to avoid parking citations, such as wiping off the chalk mark or rolling their vehicle forward or backward a few inches.
Tim Sontag, owner of Xenia Shoe and Leather Repair on East Main Street, said the appellate court’s ruling “seemed like a stretch” and he wonders if it will stick.
“I don’t know what they would do to replace that exactly. I don’t like meters because customers don’t like meters. They just feel like it’s not welcoming,” Sontag said. “Even though some people will stay over their three-hour limit, most people don’t.”
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