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Software Could Help State College to 'Boot' More Parking Offenders

on April 19, 2011 10:34 AM

Parking software that recognizes license plates could help State College enforcement officers to "boot" more chronic offenders' vehicles, parking Manager Charles DeBow said this week.

Tentatively, the borough administration has proposed that State College spend $60,000 on the software in 2012. In a midday session Monday, DeBow told Borough Council members that the investment would easily pay for itself within one year.

The software would be integrated with cameras mounted on parking-enforcement vehicles. Then, as enforcement officers drive through the borough, they would aim the cameras at parked vehicles' license plates to identify those cars already eligible to be "booted."

At the moment, DeBow said, about 2,556 registered vehicles have tallied enough violations to be booted in State College. Under borough rules, a vehicle should be booted only if it has accumulated five or more unpaid tickets -- all of them more than 30 days old -- or if its owner is facing a parking citation at the warrant level from a district judge.

But for now, DeBow said, the borough boots eligible vehicles only by chance -- for instance, when one receives a new parking ticket or is spotted in a borough garage. Many of those eligible for boots are out-of-state vehicles that appear in town only on event weekends, DeBow said.

"It's very difficult for us to collect that (earlier ticket) money" from those out-of-town vehicles' owners, he said. He said the license-plate-recognition effort would help State College "collect money that's due to the borough."

"This will help us out ... to hopefully bring (the list of 2,556 vehicles) down to a manageable level," DeBow said. "It also acts as a deterrent."

On average, DeBow said, the borough collects $218 in past-due fines every time a car is booted. At that rate, if the borough were to boot all 2,556 vehicles on its boot list, it would collect more than $550,000. The borough already boots vehicles an average of 175 to 200 times a year.

At least two Borough Council members appeared receptive to the software-and-enforcement idea Monday.

"Everyone understands that occasionally one misadventures and gets a ticket," council member Silvi Lawrence said. But those who perpetually get tickets and "continue taking up" spaces illegally shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, she said.

Motorists with more than seven annual meter offenses apiece account for 2.5 percent of overall parking violators in State College, but together they receive about 20 percent of all parking tickets issued by the borough, according to borough data.

DeBow said the license-plate recognition software would be useful not only for issuing boots, but also for other municipal purposes. It could save parking officers many hours of time as they monitor vehicles in two-hour-parking zones, and those parked more than 24 hours in downtown garages, he said.

In addition, DeBow said, the software could eliminate the need for physical commuter, residential and parking-lot permits. That's because the vehicles of those who've bought permits could be recognized with the software -- no placards necessary.

The software also could help police identify stolen vehicles and cars sought in Amber Alerts, too, DeBow said.

In an e-mail message Tuesday morning, he emphasized: "This in no way creates an environment where we would be increasing the number of tickets issued, but gives us an extremely efficient tool in collections."

The $60,000 proposal to buy the software is included in a tentative capital-improvement plan. Council has yet to vote on the idea, but a public hearing on the plan is scheduled for May 2. It will be part of the Borough Council meeting that day, slated for 7:30 p.m. in the borough municipal building, 243 S. Allen St.

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