12 April 2011

Campus Police Squad!

American University is situated in a tony portion of Northwest Washington, DC.  To keep the peace with the neighborhood, when AU built its Washington College of Law in the Spring Hill section, it agreed that students would not park on the city streets or the neighboring streets.  To wit, American University hires private parking enforcement personnel to issue parking tickets to students and staff parked in the area.  The same treatment is applied around the American University’s main campus in University Park and Tenleytown buildings.

The result is that a driver can be legally parked on the street in Washington and still receive a $75 fine.

Living in city center, I appreciate the preciousness of parking spaces and enforcement of the law. However, I am chary about the blurring of private property rights, the extra-legal extensions of governmental authority and the indiscriminate enforcement by University officials.

The University certainly has the power to enforce the law on their property, but should it authority extend to the surrounding area? American Parking Permit Policies mandates that students and campus staff must either use public transportation or park on campus.  Parking is $1.50 an hour or a $964 a year for a student, $1,464 for staff.  Since no DC laws are broken, it is dubious that that AU parking fines go into the city’s coffers.  If you are associated with campus, presumably diplomas may be withheld or paychecks are garnished.

Since the AU Campus Cops are acting as vigilante parking enforcement, the MPD does not vigorously enforce parking violations in the area. This is troubling that the government cedes authority on public property to an outside entity.   Unfortunately, it is unclear how far this territory extends.

Michael McNair, the AU Director of Campus Safety refused to define the vicinity which campus police will ticket street parking.  McNair claims: “If they are conducting A.U. business, they must park on campus or take public transportation. Where we ticket for violation of this rule is again irrelevant.”

While I am leery about extrajudicial appropriations of policing authority, it might be understandable if it were discrete and clearly defined.  As the Director of Campus Safety indicates, he thinks that the authority is a blank check.  These overzealous ivory tower meter maids can not make distinctions between cars associated with American University so they ticket every car present.  These Keystone Campus Cops pay no mind to drivers with Zone Three Offstreet Parking Stickers.

The fine print on the AU Ticket may say that you may ignore the infraction unless you are associated with AU, but it gives the color of law to vigilantes and passes the burden of proof onto innocent drivers.  So one can dispute the ticket, call the University to not have your car ticketed or ignore the ticket.  What lesson is AU teaching about obeying the law?

George Washington University, another large DC campus, also has a Good Neighbor policy around the Mount Vernon campus, but it seems to gently enforce it without having a bureaucratic, revenue generating model.

Compared to other local campuses, American University charges double the amount for its parking permit.  The zealous enforcement of the Good Neighbor policy may be as much as a revenue enhancement device as keeping the peace with area residents.  Perhaps they can follow the Chicago Public School’s lead and ban students from bringing their own food, which would help their food vendors.

Via: WUSA, Channel 9 Washington DC
Via: Washington City Paper

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