Ticket Master

As Jason Temby rolls his Parking Enforcement vehicle down an east Madison side street, one gentleman waves from his front yard. "That was unique," Temby laughs. "I got a wave – with all five fingers!" The Madison Police Parking Enforcement officer (PEO) is only half kidding. There are plenty of people who may not be so cordial. One, in fact, once spit in Temby's face. "I think I'd rather get punched," he admitted.

Another man once brandished a hammer. "I just got into my vehicle and called the police," he said. "I was just glad it wasn't a gun."

Aside from a handful of such instances, Temby has had few issues during his 10 years with the department.
Although he sports a Madison police shirt and a badge, Temby, 42, is not a police officer. Neither are the other "PEOs" on the force. The distinction is significant. "There are benefits to having a uniform, but sometimes people call on me to help, and I can't. I don't get involved in high-speed chases. I cannot detain people, but I can request a police officer to assist me," he said.

Also, PEOs do not carry guns.

A native of the San Francisco area, Temby met his wife while both were in the military – he in the U.S. Coast Guard and she in the U.S. Navy. After a move back to her home state of Wisconsin, he worked as a special education assistant for Madison schools, earning $11 an hour. Looking for a change, he applied for and was hired as a PEO at $20 an hour, then received 12 weeks of training. "Next to police and fire, we have the longest training period," he said, "and then a six-month probationary period."

On this day, Temby is a "call taker." He's driving around town, watching for parking violations, and ready to respond to specific complaints dispatched by Dane County 9-1-1. The vehicle's computer provides details of each call.

One call comes in for a private parking violation on Regent Street, and Temby responds. On arrival, he's told by the property owner to disregard the call. Temby assures all is okay, then alerts dispatch that he's available again.

Often, by the time he arrives at a location, the vehicle in question has moved, which happens several times this day. It's hit or miss, he admits, and Mondays tend to be a bit slower than other days of the week.

We drive on.

"Ah, there's a ticket right there," he says, and swings his vehicle around to a car parked at a yellow-painted curb on Gilman Street. Approaching the car, he then notices it has already been ticketed by another member of the PEO team.

We drive on.

Despite what appears as a wild goose chase, Temby is adamant about the important role PEOs assume. "We provide parking for the public," he says. "If we weren't encouraging people to share, nobody would move their cars, which would hurt businesses. There are people who don't come downtown to shop because they don't think they can find parking. We also work to keep vehicles and pedestrians safe."

They have their critics, but Temby staunchly defends his position. "The public doesn't realize the importance of this job, and what it would be like downtown if we didn't have rules and regulations, or didn't tow abandoned cars."

Temby was selected from an applicant pool of about 400 when three jobs became available, and 10 years later, he believes the job of a PEO is one of the city's best-kept secrets. He has seniority and enjoys a lot of independence during his Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift.

There are no ticket-writing quotas, he insists, but in a "good" year, they can write a quarter of a million dollars worth of tickets. "I'm seen as either overzealous or lazy," he says. "People tell me I'm wasting tax dollars if I'm waiting around, or overzealous if I'm writing tickets."

Every two weeks, Temby's job alternates between "call taker" and "chalker," when he drives a jeep around town marking car tires in time-restricted parking zones, well aware that some people wash the chalk marks off in a continuous game.

People can receive up to three parking tickets in a restricted time zone (e.g., two hours) if their vehicle doesn't move after time expires. Other common violations include parking closer than two feet behind another vehicle (often overlooked), four feet from a driveway, 10 feet from a fire hydrant, or 15 feet from a crosswalk.

Turning down Langdon Street, Temby spots a vehicle parked too close to a crosswalk. He stops the car, turns his vehicle's lights on, and pulls alongside. Stepping out of the vehicle, he keys the offending vehicle's data into an AutoCite, a sophisticated hand-held device that records the license plate, vehicle make, location, and infraction and can take photos and record audio as well.

The device then spits out a ticket, which Temby slips under its windshield wiper. Back in the car, he explains that a crosswalk does not have to be painted yellow to be considered a crosswalk. "Just a curb cut [ramp] will do, making it obvious."

Another lesson learned. We drive on.

Temby has been instrumental in researching and lobbying for much of the department's technology. He also trains other staff members. The department's fleet of 21 PEO vehicles now includes two "AutoChalk" cars, each outfitted with lasers, GPS, and four cameras. When used properly, an AutoChalk system can record vehicle information at a drive-by rate of three cars per second.

While this day is slow, Temby says a more typical day might include several calls for private property violations, vehicles overstaying their welcome in time-restricted zones, and abandoned vehicles – which often get towed. Temby sees plenty of stolen vehicles and stolen license plates on the job, but the latest trend, he says, has perpetrators using tin snips to cut vehicle registration stickers off license plates.

There are other frustrations: The no-parking graphic on Madison Metro's bus stop signs is so small, drivers often don't see them, he says, and curbs at bus stops are no longer striped in red and yellow. As a result, bus stop violations have increased significantly. "It changed for the worse."

But overall, Temby knows he's in a good place. His job is low-stress, he's well compensated, receives good benefits and flexibility, and for the most part, doesn't work on weekends. As a civilian employee, though, he was affected by changes instituted this year by the Governor's office.

"This last paycheck, I had my first $111 deduction for health insurance, and when all is said and done, I'll get $400 less each month. Don't get me wrong. I'd rather have the $400, but I still have great health insurance and I'm still paying a lot less than many people. Plus, I have a pension.

"We'll be just fine."

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