Tameka Smith marks a tire on Fifth Street in Columbus. Smith has been the downtown parking enforcement officer for the past year-and-a-half. Photo by: Lee Adams/Dispatch Staff
October 15, 2012 10:05:05 AM
Tameka Smith has become a familiar figure in downtown Columbus over the past year-and-a-half.
Quick to smile, quick to say hello, the 33-year-old mother of three has come to know just about everybody who works, lives or shops downtown.
Given her disposition, you would assume she is liked by all the people with whom she comes in contact on a daily basis.
"Oh, no," she says, still smiling. "They don't always like me."
Consider it an occupational hazard.
Smith is the downtown traffic control officer for the Columbus Police Department. In another era, the job was referred to as a meter maid -- the person responsible for enforcing the parking rules downtown.
Four times a day, she makes her rounds, chalking tires as a means of monitoring how long a car has been parked in the roughly 300 public parking spaces downtown.
There is a two-hour parking limit. During each of her rounds, she looks for cars that have been marked on her previous round, which means the driver has exceeded the time limit.
The fine is just $10, but Smith says it's a study in human nature to observe the lengths some parking malefactors will employ to deny, dispute or dodge paying the fee.
"It's hilarious, really," Smith says. "I've heard just about everything you can imagine. I'm always amazed that some people can get so rude and ugly about getting a ticket."
Offenders can also be pretty creative in their efforts to dissuade Smith from issuing a ticket.
"So many excuses," Smith says, laughing. "My favorite was the lady who came out while I was writing her a ticket. She said that she was having her hair colored and it wasn't supposed to take two hours. She said it was the beautician's fault and she shouldn't get a ticket because the beautician was so slow.
"I thought that was a pretty good one."
Some are not even above destroying the evidence -- or attempting to, at least.
"Every now and then, I'll see people trying to wipe the chalk off their tires," she says. "Sometimes, I'll walk right up while they're trying to wipe off the chalk; they won't even see me. I'll say, 'Excuse me!' and they look up and see me. They are so embarrassed.
"Wouldn't you think getting caught wiping off the chalk would be worse than paying a $10 ticket?"
In addition to making her rounds and writing tickets, Smith is involved in the entire process, including writing delinquency letters. She also fields calls from irate violators who hope to argue their way out of a ticket.
"I do try to be lenient," says Smith, who estimates she writes between 50 and 60 parking tickets per week. "I will listen to what they say, and sometimes I'll dismiss the ticket if I'm convinced."
Other violators choose to ignore the ticket. That's a bad move, Smith says.
"You would be surprised how many people don't pay on time," Smith said. "I don't get it, because it's a $10 ticket, but if you are late it goes up to $20. Why anybody would be late, I don't know."
Smith says refusing to pay parking tickets could result in having a warrant issued for arrest, although it hasn't come to that during her time at CPD.
Prior to joining the police department, Smith worked as a daycare provider at First United Methodist Church.
"The toddlers up to the twos," Smith says. "But I have to tell you, that was probably pretty good training for this job. I am used to people having a fit over the least little thing."
Even so, Smith likes her job.
"Oh, I do," she says. "I don't want to do this forever, but I do like it. It's good exercise, for one thing, and you do get to meet some really nice people. I guess the worst part of the job is the weather. I'm out here when it's hot. I'm out here when it's cold. I'm out here when it's raining.
"It's a good job, though. I like my work."
Even if not everyone downtown appreciates it.
Slim Smith is managing editor of The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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