BANGOR, Maine — To help boost parking enforcement efforts in the city, police Chief Ron Gastia recently instituted a 10-ticket per month quota to all patrol officers, according to an internal police department memo sent anonymously to the Bangor Daily News.
The quota was issued to better enforce parking violations and also to help increase police department revenue during a particularly tough economic time, according to the two-page memo written by Gastia dated July 29.
Asked about it this week, Gastia said it was unfortunate that an internal document was made public because it wasn’t written with the public in mind.
“I would have gone into more detail about why this was necessary,” he said. “But these things happen.”
Either way, the quota appears to have worked.
In August, patrol officers wrote a total of 592 tickets, Gastia said. Prior to that, the patrol division — which has about 35 officers — averaged approximately 50 parking tickets each month. Those numbers do not include tickets written by the city’s downtown parking enforcement personnel, who are not sworn officers.
“The [August] numbers tell me that there is a significant number of people who have been violating ordinances,” the chief said. “But now that people are aware that we’re out there, we’re seeing more voluntary compliance, so I expect the violations to go down in September.”
Gastia said the expected drop in violations led him to reduce the quota from 10 tickets per month to five. Some, however, are not convinced quotas are a good idea. City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer said he wasn’t aware of the recent mandate.
“I cannot envision that the council would be happy about a quota system,” he said. “But it’s also not our responsibility to micromanage the police department.”
Palmer said he’s more concerned about potentially disgruntled officers airing concerns in the media.
“I have a hard time with anonymous tips like this,” he said. Although the council advises the police chief on policy, Gastia runs his department. He said the quota was simply a way to get patrol officers to enforce the issue.
“In the past, I’ve tried to make this a priority, and tickets weren’t written,” the chief said, acknowledging that not all officers were excited about the mandate.
Gastia is not legally precluded from using quotas, according to City Manager Edward Barrett, who was aware of the content outlined in the memo and supported his chief.
“Historically, parking enforcement has not been a priority for patrol officers,” Barrett said. “This was a way to get them to engage.”
Parking violations have always been a problem in the city’s downtown areas, but the recent crackdown has focused more on residential areas of the city.
Motorists are being targeted primarily for parking on sidewalks or esplanades, for parking left wheel to the curb, for parking too close to intersections and for blocking drive-ways.
Gastia said he is aware that some members of the community believe that the recent enforcement mandate is just a way to make money.
“I’m not going to pull punches. Of course I’m looking at the revenue,” he said. “But it was never about that. It’s our obligation to enforce laws, and we hadn’t been doing that.”
Parking tickets range from $10 to $100, depending on the violation. Revenue generated from parking tickets goes directly to the police department’s parking division, according to city finance director Debbie Cyr. Annual revenue averages about $110,000, but the city does not break out revenue generated from downtown enforcement and enforcement in residential areas.
So while the city has generated more revenue recently from parking violations, it’s difficult to estimate exactly how much. Historically, Cyr said, parking revenue barely covers the costs associated with the police department’s parking division.