A Hummel Report Investigation
Last fall a parking enforcement officer in Providence instigated a profanity-filled argument with a motorist on Federal Hill. It wasn't the first time. The same officer signed a `last chance' agreement several years to save her job after getting into a similar altercation. This week Jim Hummel sits down with the public safety commissioner, who fired her - only to find out the agreement she signed wasn't really her last chance.
Click HERE (PDF) to see the last chance agreement.
If ever there was a job where people want to shoot the messenger it's the parking enforcement officer - known for years as the meter maid.
Pare: ``It's a tough job handing out parking tickets - it's a difficult job, they get abused and harassed, but we're public servants. We sign up for this and they sign up for the job they're doing. And there's an expectation to have some thick skin.''
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told us the same thing last summer when we interviewed him about the city's stepped-up parking enforcement. Our story included a business owner on Federal Hill who had an ugly run-in with a parking enforcement officer outside her shop.
Quite simply, Pare said, that behavior is unacceptable.
Hummel: ``Now the commissioner is backing his words with actions after one of his parking enforcement officers got into a profanity-filled beef with someone working her beat here on Federal Hill. Pare said enough is enough and fired her. But now there's a twist.''
The incident happened here as a motorist was pulling into a parking lot on Atwells Avenue.
The parking enforcement officer was walking on the sidewalk at the time.
Pare: ``She stepped off the curb and she walked in front of this vehicle without looking both ways. The vehicle wasn't going fast, so there was eye contact and a gesture from our PEO - from our parking enforcement officer - and she was walking with a friend and was probably distracted talking to this friend, which caused this altercation verbally. And then threats from our parking enforcement office with this person.''
Hummel: ``What kind of threats?"
Pare: ``I'll write you a ticket, who do you think you are? Why don't you watch where you're going and there was foul language all throughout that. Very intimidating. And it escalated. She escalated it by walking over to the person's car, who was trying to park and conduct their business.''
Hummel: ``So the person tried to get out of it by going to park the car and she pursued it?''
Pare: ``Yes, clearly that's what happened and luckily it didn't turn into a physical altercation.''
Pare soon found out that the officer - who he declined to name - had a similar altercation several years ago.
Pare: ``There was both a warning and a written agreement, that if this behavior continues then it will be grounds for termination.''
It's called a last-chance agreement and The Hummel Report obtained a heavily-redacted copy.
Pare: ``It said if you repeat this behavior in the future you agree that the city will terminate you.''
Hummel: ``So clearly there was no ambiguity, she put her signature ...''
Pare: ``Clearly, clearly she agreed to this agreement that if she repeats this behavior the city will terminate her and she agrees to that.''
Hummel: ``In effect to save her job at the time, right?''
Pare: ``Correct, because of the behavior that brought her to that last chance agreement.''
Despite the term last chance agreement- the officer, a member of the union Local 1033, has appealed her firing to an arbitrator. While she isn't collecting pay, she is still receiving medical benefits, paid for by the city, pending the appeal, something that doesn't sit well with Pare.
Pare: ``Look, the city's in trouble financially and all of these little pockets of money that we're paying out for benefits add up.''
And while the department doesn't know for sure, the altercation on Atwells Avenue sounds exactly like a run-in Susan Asselin had with a parking enforcement officer a few blocks away last summer.
Asselin: ``And I calmly walked over and said, `Excuse me can I ask you a question? Why are you ticketing that car?' And this woman totally blew up at me - and started screaming `I'll put as many tickets as I want on this car, you keep asking me questions I'll put another ticket on it.' I said: `That's my business over there. I'm asking because my clients park over there. Then she started swearing at me and ordered me back into my business."
Hummel: ``If you feel emboldened enough to do that with somebody on the street, clearly it's something that she didn't think was inappropriate or maybe that she would not be held responsible. Is that one of your concerns?''
Pare: ``Yeah, there's no doubt that she's conducted herself this way in the past and probably repeatedly.''
Hummel: ``Is there a message you're trying to send also?''
Pare: ``I'm trying to improve the professionalism and increase the standard. There are too many people that work here in public safety that do a fantastic job and get verbally abused giving out tickets and stopping cars and they do it professionally, they do it with dignity and they do it with respect. There are too many of those people doing the right thing to allow this small group to do the wrong thing and tarnish the image of the Providence Police and public safety in this city.''
And the commissioner says it's a good of example of: that was then, this is now.
Pare: ``It was tolerated behavior, and perhaps the public and the people that were the brunt of this verbal assault just took it and now they have confidence in bringing it forward because
something will be done. We can't accept this behavior, we can't accept it. It's wrong, she knew it was wrong and sometimes people just have to walk away and say: I don't measure up.''
Pare says he will pursue this case until all of the officer's appeals have been exhausted - no matter how much time and energy it takes.
In Providence, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.