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Sixth Circuit Court Of Appeals Rules 'Tire Chalking' Unconstitutional

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Stroll down a city street, and you may notice white marks on the tires of parked cars. It's probably chalk. Many municipalities use it to track how long a car has been parked in a space without moving. Park longer than allowed, the city writes a ticket. Well, this week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled tire chalking unconstitutional. A panel of judges say it violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The city of Alpena, Mich., is impacted by this ruling. I'm joined now by Anne Gentry. She's the director of the Downtown Development Authority in Alpena, Mich.

Welcome to the program.

ANNE GENTRY: Hey. Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: So for the background here, this lawsuit was brought against a different city, Saginaw, Mich. But the ruling right now affects cities in your state, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Can you talk about what happened in Alpena when you heard about it?

GENTRY: Yeah. So yesterday afternoon about 2 p.m., I had actually one of our local news reporters at our paper come into my office. And he said, Anne, you have to Google Michigan chalking tires and tell me what you think. So it was a quick conversation and a phone call to our police chief to say, how do we make sure that we're compliant with it? The DDA, like many throughout the state, monitors all the parking throughout the downtown. So we currently hire a parking ambassador to monitor those spaces and make sure that people either park correctly or aren't parking over time.

CORNISH: And she was using the chalk method, I understand.

GENTRY: So yeah. What she usually does is, when she marks a car in, she marks the tire with a piece of chalk. And then she also takes down the license plate number and the time that the car checked into that lot or parking space.

CORNISH: Your parking ambassador who writes the tickets is a staff of one. How does this ruling affect her?

GENTRY: Yeah, so immediately when we heard the ruling, the chalk - we can't use that anymore. But she usually checks cars in with their license plate too, so she'll continue doing it that way.

CORNISH: How much money does Alpena make from parking tickets?

GENTRY: So we usually receive about $8,000 in parking violations a year. That's $10 for one parking ticket. And then if it's not paid, it doubles. And then if it isn't paid again, it doubles up again. So that amount just goes into our general fund. But for the most part, it doesn't even cover the costs of our employee to mark the tires, so it's not like we have a net profit on the tickets that are being paid.

CORNISH: You know, if it's not that much money in the scheme of things, why is it important to control parking in this way?

GENTRY: Yeah. So we switched to the parking system that we have currently. We have about three or four lots as well as our street parking that are time restricted, so you can only park between two or three hours there. You know, with a high number of employees in our downtown, we always try to keep those prime spots open for different customers, you know, whether people are shopping or getting a quick bite to eat. So we want to keep those spaces open.

CORNISH: But were people scamming the system?

GENTRY: Yeah. I mean, there's still a lot of people, you know, employees that will tell me, I park there every day. I just eat the ticket. And, you know, I wouldn't pay that. But some people still do it that way or just move their cars around the lots.

CORNISH: In the meantime, at the DDA or Downtown Development Authority there, are you going to consider parking meters?

GENTRY: Yeah. That's been something - I think, with a lot of communities as our downtown is growing and we're having a higher density of businesses and especially a lot more employees within our district, it's something that's come up year - kind of year after year. You know, we would love to have a parking garage downtown. And a natural step before we do that would be to put some type of meters. You know, with this ruling, I think it'll be interesting to see what other communities do and say. You know, maybe meters are the answer to help us better monitor, you know, who's coming in and how to track if they're parking over time or not.

CORNISH: Anne Gentry is director of the Downtown Development Authority in Alpena, Mich.

Thank you for speaking with us.

GENTRY: Of course. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.