The Washington Post

Falls Church police chief rips up parking tickets written on snowy Tuesday

Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin looked at the circumstances behind 37 parking tickets written during Tuesday's snowstorm, and tore them up. (City of Falls Church) Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin looked at the circumstances behind 37 parking tickets written during Tuesday’s snowstorm, and tore them up. (City of Falls Church)

The snow came down fairly heavily for much of Tuesday, so members of the Falls Church Police Department wrote a sheaf of parking tickets for vehicles parked on the snow emergency routes that night. But none of the ticketed cars and trucks were was were blocking the route or needed to be towed, so when Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin heard about it on Wednesday, she checked into the situation and decided not only to tear up the tickets but to apologize to the residents who received them.

“This storm did not rise to the level of these actions,” Gavin said, “and in the best interest of public safety it was just the right thing to do.”

That is shocking and refreshing stuff. Police executives almost always back their troops and their actions no matter what, at least publicly, to show solidarity with the rank-and-file and to avoid creating an opportunity for plaintiffs’ lawyers in any future litigation. And this is just some parking tickets, 37 to be exact. But instead of directing residents to “tell it to the judge” and reflexively supporting her officers, Gavin took a common sense approach and invalidated the tickets.

Gavin’s action was not only first reported by the Falls Church News-Press‘s Nicholas Benton, but Benton was the one who brought it to Gavin’s attention on Wednesday. The chief said she received an e-mail from Benton reporting that some citizens were upset with the tickets, apparently issued late Tuesday night. Gavin said she had the tickets pulled, looked at the time and place on each, found there were no dire circumstances involved, no cars abandoned and none requested to be towed by VDOT. So on Wednesday she ordered the tickets voided, and on Thursday she visited some of the residents and personally apologized.

The situation was unique, Gavin said Thursday. “This doesn’t absolve citizens from not blocking the snow routes,” she told me. “I hope there is no precedent as it really is about measuring each and every circumstance for what is presented. The spirit in which the snow emergency route ordinance is written is to help facilitate snow removal and to assist public safety in moving or removing vehicles out of the way in dire circumstances. No vehicles in this instance were moved or directed to be moved by our immediate actions.”

The Falls Church police have never been shy about writing tickets, as I’ve documented in the past, but that was before Gavin joined the department in 2007. In November 2012, she became chief, the second female chief ever in Northern Virginia. I asked if she expected any complaints about her actions “Probably,” said Gavin. “It was just the right thing to do.”

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.



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