Amherst Police attempting to save students from tickets

By Cameron Ford

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Courtesy of amherstma.gov

When final exams come around, many students are inclined to pack their books and head for the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, whether on foot or in their cars.

However, with little parking in the immediate area, many students who drive are tempted to leave their vehicles in no-parking zones rather than walk the extra distance from the parking garage or other lots. This has become a major issue in past weeks, according to University of Massachusetts Police Department (UMPD) Deputy Chief of Police Patrick Archbald.

“(The access road between Goodell and South College) is a public way, so we’re always cognoscente and concerned about fire trucks and ambulances being able to get through,” Archbald said during an interview. “That is one of two roads that leads up to the library area, and … if you were to have a fire in that building and were not able to get fire trucks up there, then that would be a catastrophe.”

According to UMPD Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead, the problem with parking illegally near finals time, while not unfamiliar, seems to be especially prevalent this year.

“It seems to be worse this year than previous years,” he said, “and the last thing I want to do is reward students in the library hitting the books with a 40 dollar parking ticket.”

Indeed, an email released to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian revealed that “since October 26, 2010, UMPD police officers have issued 300 parking citations and have towed 28 vehicles from the area of the DuBois Library.” In addition, the same email stated “over the past three weeks, 15 police officers have been tied-up for some 12 hours enforcing parking violations around the Library during some of our busiest periods, 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m..”

According to Whitehead, several areas of campus where illegal parking has become increasingly frequent include the Goodell access road, Hicks Way, the Campus Center, the circle outside the Student Union and the pedestrians-only zone around Bartlett and Goodell.

The wide scope of the parking issue is strongly evident in UMPD’s online police logs. The crime log for Sunday, Nov. 7, for example, indicates that at 4:57 p.m. on that date, a parking complaint led to the towing of seven cars that were parked illegally in the Student Union circle. Barely four hours later, another nine cars were ticketed outside the Campus Center, according to the same log.

A similar scenario took place the following Wednesday, when at 7:17 p.m., eight cars were ticketed for parking in the Student Union circle. Half an hour later, officers were summoned back to the circle, where they were forced to ticket another five cars.

According to Archbald, the increased number of cars parked illegally is not for lack of available parking space.

“There’s Lot 40, which is north of the Boyden Gym,” Archbald said of alternative places to park, “and there’s also the parking garage. There is a fee for the parking garage … so I think that some vehicles are reluctant to pay that.”

Whitehead also offered advice for students to avoid getting their cars ticketed or towed.

“One, I would encourage people to walk,” he said. “It’s also practical to take the bus. And if you do drive … you park in the parking garage, where the first hour is free and then the library can validate your parking and it’s only three dollars if you’re there from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next morning.”

“I’m not sure how many students are aware of that,” he added.

According to Whitehead, an advertising campaign is already under way to spread awareness of the illegal parking issue and the potential hazards it carries. This will consist of posters, notifications on the library’s message board, and a notification in Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jean Kim’s monthly newsletter to students.

With such high numbers of citations, one can only wonder where the money from those tickets goes. Parking Services manager Mike Brennan was able to shed some light on that in a Monday morning interview.

“All citations go to the financial aid scholarship fund,” he said. “Parking Services does not receive one penny.”

Parking Services has also introduced several measures to ease the pain for people who may be towed while on campus, which came about well before the current parking issues. One of the most significant of these is Parking Services’ text message alert system.

“If you’ve been towed, we will text you as soon as you’ve been towed to let you know that you’ve been removed,” said Brennan. “The purpose of this is so you don’t incur more storage charges.”

Anyone interested in signing up for the text alert system is asked to visit www.parking.umass.edu and follow the links for further instructions.

The University of Massachusetts’ tow contractor is Ernie’s Towing of Amherst and Northampton. Supervisors at Ernie’s could not be reached for comment, but Brennan was adamant about the fact that, despite the large amount of business conducted with Ernie’s, Parking Services is “not out to make anyone rich.”

Brennan offered one last bit of advice to the campus community about Parking Services.

“Just please park legal, please park in your permanent space, please renew early,” he said. “And if you have any question, if you have any concern … come sit down and talk to us.”

Cam Ford can be reached at [email protected]