Over the last few weeks, the Madison Police Department has been using the city's former Water Utility office, 525 E. Main St., to park up to a dozen squad cars, marked and unmarked. The cops seem to regard this as a parking-rule-free zone, at least for them.
Squad cars at this location routinely violate parking rules that ordinary drivers would get tickets for. Parking partially in front of driveways (should be at least four feet away). Parking way too close (three inches) to other cars (should be two feet). Parking too close to corners (should be 15 feet), along curbs coated in bright yellow no-parking paint. Parking way too close to fire hydrants (should be 10 feet).
One day last week, a squad car was parked along yellow paint on Main Street with its rear wheel 18 inches from the curb (should be a foot or less), posing a clear traffic hazard for vehicles attempting to make the turn from Blair Street.
Capt. Richard Bach, who oversees traffic enforcement for the MPD, discussed the rules of the road regarding parking and police with Isthmus. The paper did not say why it was asking, but the cops may have figured it out, as the number and severity of violations at this site have declined.
Officers, notes Bach, can of course violate parking rules in an emergency and are allowed to park at meters without paying. They can also park in no-parking areas "as long as the vehicle is not obstructing traffic," but are supposed to turn on their blinking hazard lights.
But officers, he says, should never park in front of hydrants ("that would create its own safety hazard") or in tow-away zones. Bach knows of cases "in the past" in which illegally parked police vehicles have been ticketed and towed. Usually, parking enforcers would first attempt to locate the officer.
If a ticket is issued, "I would expect that detective or officer to contact his commanding officer, [who] would review the circumstances." If it's a first offense or there's some extenuating reason, the ticket could be voided.
Bach is not aware of any police officer who's had to pay a citation received for an on-duty parking offense in the year and a half he's had his current post. But, he says, "We've put people on notice that any more of these and you're going to be responsible for the ticket."
If he's looking to make the point that parking laws apply to everyone....