Fastening boot can be real kick There's danger, excitement in parking tickets.

September 23, 1991|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff

Twenty-three thousand drivers are on Lorna Brown's and Cheryl Williams' hit list.

Brown and Williams boot cars for a living. And if they had their way, they would boot everybody on the hit list -- every last one of you.

No car parked on a city street is safe from these keepers of the boot if the car has three or more tickets that are more than 30

days old.

Brown and Williams love their job, even though they have been called profane names and, in one instance, nearly run over as they booted an angry scofflaw's vehicle.

They cruised East Baltimore on a recent day, scouring the curbs for scofflaws, or "scoffs," as the two veteran parking control agents call them.

Brown drove and randomly called out license plate numbers at a rapid-fire pace, while Williams punched the numbers into a lap top computer that told her whether the car should be booted.

Their work was synchronized into a smooth rhythm as Brown called out the tag numbers phonetically in police style: "Young Zebra Edward 495, Zebra Boy Boy 866; Paul Victor Tom 046, William Paul Murray 123."

They averaged 10 license plates per minute.

Within five minutes, they found their first victim, a 20-year-old Chevy with dents and rust on the fenders, parked at the corner of East Monument Street and North Patterson Park Avenue.

The two women began installing a heavy, metal boot to the Chevy's front wheel. They worked quickly, hoping to finish their handiwork before the car's owner discovered them. Suddenly, they heard a man's voice.

"I already paid them tickets! I have someplace to go now!" the man yelled.

Williams radioed parking headquarters to double-check the car's status. She learned that the Chevy had five outstanding tickets, totaling $422 with penalties. The car's owner, Donald Harris, stormed off, but not until he removed his hubcaps and locked them in the car's trunk for safe keeping.

Satisfied that they had nailed a "scoff," the women locked the orange boot, preventing Harris from moving his car until the tickets and penalties are paid.

Outbursts like Harris' are common, and it is not unusual for booters to be assaulted by angry scofflaws, the women said.

"It's a dangerous job, but it's exciting to see their reactions," Brown said of the "scoffs" whose cars are booted.

Brown and Williams are often called unprintable names and once they had a close call when a guy tried to run over them. They were kneeling on the street, applying a boot to his car when he tried to drive off.

Other parking agents have also endured rough treatment. Recently, a parking agent was slugged in the jaw by a "scoff." And it's not unusual for parking agents to call police officers for help.

Last April, a police officer -- called to help a parking control agent -- arrested a lawyer and charged her with assaulting the agent. The lawyer had already been booted for five unpaid tickets worth $195 and was about to be towed away from a downtown tow-away zone.

The lawyer, Jamir Couch, refused the officer's order to step up on the curb, saying, "I'm not going anywhere. I'm a lawyer and I know my rights," according to the police report.

Couch then pushed the parking agent away from her car and was arrested for assault and battery, according to the report by police officer Gary L. Budny, who witnessed the incident.

Couch was given probation before judgment and put on one month of unsupervised probation, said Royce Stiles, assistant state's attorney who prosecuted the case. Couch refused to comment about the incident.

Despite the difficulties encountered by the city's parking control agents, the work brings in substantial revenue for the city. Recently, Brown and Williams booted three cars within a few hours -- the cars' tickets and penalties totaled $1,000.

The city issues $9 million in parking citations per year. Last year, the city collected $10,975,000 in parking tickets and penalties from July 1, 1990, to June 30, 1991, according to the city's finance department.

L Another $1,875,000 is currently outstanding in unpaid fines.

The city keeps a 500-page computerized list of the worst scofflaws, called the "heavy hitters list" of people with 10 or more outstanding parking tickets.

New tags can't save scofflaws from the parking control agents. Their new tags can be hunted down, because the tag numbers are now on the city's list of cars targeted for booting, said Jeanne Robinson, acting superintendent of parking


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