There are many roads to Mecca, the ancient saying goes. And on occasion I had been known to take a few of those different roads.
Seeking out and sustaining a safe and orderly community is not accomplished by using only one method or process. This principle is well understood by those experienced in the enforcement side of the legal profession. I say “experienced” because new recruits are often not trained in some of the more subtle aspects of keeping an orderly society. This requires street experience and a willingness to think and act outside the box on occasion.
I have an example, of course.
“John” (his real name is close to that but of East Indian origin) was a hard working, conscientious bylaw enforcement officer. I had known him for a few years and found him to be a quiet, polite and respectful person. John’s position was locally known as a “Green Hornet.” This apt euphemism was attributed to them due to their novel green uniforms and their ability to give you a little sting with a parking ticket.
John had been given a rather hard nut to crack and came into my police training office to ask for help to find a solution. His beat was an area in the city known for its used car lots. There were no fewer than four in his particular section of town. Although his job mainly involved tagging cars on the street, the city was receiving many complaints of used car lots blocking sidewalks with their vehicles and parking them on the streets when their own lots were full.
John’s problem – the cars didn’t have license plates so he couldn’t issue tags. He had been constantly talking to the sales staff and owners, asking them to move their vehicles, but was met with considerable derision and non compliance. The situation had deteriorated to the point where he was encountering abusive language and had even been ordered off properties a few times.
I advised him it was time for an appropriate object lesson in civic responsibility and I had a plan.
The following morning I picked up John from his station and took him for a morning cup of joe to talk strategy for the day.
Of course any vehicle breaking a bylaw was subject to both tagging and towing. A fact often not known by the average citizen. I told John it was important for him to be seen directing not only the tow truck drivers but also myself. He was taken aback. I reassured him that this was necessary to establish himself as the authority in the area.
I had made prior arrangements for six tow trucks to see us at a side street that morning.
A quick drive-by established there were numerous vehicles obstructing sidewalks and abandoned on the street in front of the used car lots. Armed with a briefcase full of impound report forms, I ordered up the first three tow trucks and divided up the forms between the drivers. I pre-signed each form and instructed the drivers to insert the Vehicle Identification Numbers in the appropriate slots and leave a copy with me as they took the cars away.
With the trucks lined up out of view I advised John to approach the lot owners on foot.
As expected, he received a considerable amount of invective and he turned away and simply waved at me. I was parked a short distance down the road and arrived quickly with the three tow trucks, which immediately backed up over the sidewalk and hooked onto the first three vehicles partially blocking the sidewalks.
The lot owner and a salesman ran out to me, complaining wildly. I simply looked up at them as I was writing out my report forms and pointed to the bylaw officer suggesting he is the person with the authority here. He was busy filling out his own forms and simply advised that he had warned them this day was coming. The vehicles were currently in the custody of the tow truck drivers, he explained, and they would have to negotiate with them.
What followed was a circus of running to the office for cash to pay the drivers their “drop fees”, looking for appropriate keys to move what was left and frantic pleadings with John. As we had planned, John then directed them to hook onto other cars. It didn’t take long for the owner to realize that he had run out of cash for drop fees and he had better direct his staff to quickly grab the keys and begin moving cars.
In the mean time I ordered my reserve tow trucks to hook up more cars abandoned on the street. Each driver pulled onto the street, with salesmen in hot pursuit, yelling loudly to get the driver’s attention. Too late! It was off to the vehicle impound yard… where the fees would be considerably higher. At its high point I had to block the traffic on the street while three tow trucks simultaneously executed their directions.
We repeated this procedure at another lot further down the street and the word spread fast. For the first time in memory we could look down the street and see the sidewalks and streets on both sides clear of vehicles.
A quick follow-up the next day revealed 100 per cent compliance. One week later John came in to my office and advised that he had now gained new respect from the lot owners.
“They actually call me sir!” he said with pride.