Federal court case causes Aspen parking department to chuck chalk
Beginning June 1, Aspen parking officers will no longer use chalk marks on tires to keep track of how long a car has been parked, the city’s parking director said Friday.
The decision was made after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that chalking tires was unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, said Mitch Osur, Aspen’s parking director.
And though the court’s decision is only binding in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky — the states covered by the Sixth Circuit — Aspen’s parking department uses chalk sparingly and has the technology to figure out a solution to get by without it, he said.
“We will find a way in the next 30 days not to chalk, even though it’s not the law yet,” Osur said. “I don’t want anyone saying, ‘Hey, you guys are doing something illegal.’”
Officials who deal with parking in other Roaring Fork Valley communities said Friday they solely use chalk to enforce parking rules and had no immediate plans to change tactics in the near future, though they were all aware of the federal court decision.
The three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit Court overturned a trial court’s decision, which found that the chalk mark was legally a search but also was reasonable because enforcing parking regulations constituted “community caretaking.”
The Appeals Court, however, found that enforcing parking rules was an exercise in revenue generation and was not community caretaking. Further, the judges said the chalk-mark search lacked probable cause because the cars were parked legally at the time of the marking.
It isn’t clear what will happen next with the issue, according to media reports.
For Osur, eliminating chalk from his officers’ repertoire is relatively simple. The department’s three-wheeled parking enforcement vehicles have been equipped with license plate-reading technology for the past 17 years, so chalk is used only in certain areas of Aspen, he said.
Those areas include some spots around City Market, those in 15- and 30-minute parking zones and those in the area of the Hunter Creek Apartments, Osur said. Department officials are currently figuring out a non-chalk solution for those areas, he said.
“I’m not sure I agree (with the court’s decision), but it’s not my call,” Osur said. “But I want to be legal about it. I believe in being proactive.”
Police enforce parking rules in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, where the use of chalk is the only way to determine if a vehicle has moved in the designated parking period. The municipalities don’t have parking meters, parking kiosks or electronic license plate-readers.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said Friday he would wait to hear from his city attorney’s office about whether the Circuit Court’s decision implies any legal responsibility for his department. But he left no doubt as to his feelings about the decision.
“It’s an absolutely ridiculous ruling in my opinion,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no search. There’s no seizure. There’s no tracking of movements.”
Also, solutions — if legally mandated — would not be simple, cheap or quick to implement, he said. Those could include parking meters, parking kiosks or the license-plate readers, he said.
And those license-plate readers “are much more intrusive” than making a simple chalk mark on a tire, which records nothing for posterity, Wilson said.
Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott said he was aware of the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision and also would be forwarding it to the town’s attorney for legal advice.
“I definitely see it having possible impacts in the future,” Knott said. “It’s definitely something for us to be looking into.”
A possible solution, he suggested, was to chalk the pavement in front of or behind a tire. However, Knott also pointed out that rain, snow or other inclement weather would diminish the effectiveness of that solution.
Jesus Terrazas, ordinance officer with the Carbondale Police Department, said Friday that he, too, was aware of the court decision, though the department had no immediate plans to eliminate chalking tires.
“We’re just waiting and seeing,” Terrazas said. “It’s definitely something we have our eyes on.”