The people who ticket, boot and tow Washington's illegally parked cars are under attack. When caught, irate motorists once seemed satisfied at merely hurling verbal missiles at the men and women who roam the city in search of parking violations.
But no more.
This year, ticket writers and other D.C. Department of Transportation parking enforcement workers have been slapped, punched, kicked, spat on, rammed by cars and threatened at knifepoint, according to newly compiled DOT records. And although there have been arrests, no one, authorities say, has been fined or jailed for committing such violence.
When an Adams-Morgan man discovered a parking ticket on his car one day last November, for example, he flew into a rage and chased the unarmed ticket writer with a baseball bat. Eventually, according to a police report, the man cornered the city worker in his patrol car and used the bat to smash out all the car windows, one by one. The motorist was later arrested and given a suspended sentence.
More recently, two ticket writers were shot at by people with pellet guns. In one incident, the pellet smashed a patrol car window and whizzed within inches of the ticket writer's face. In the other case, the pellet struck a ticket writer on the top of the head, knocking him unconscious.
"I was a police officer for four-and-a-half years and I never before encountered the abuse I encountered as a ticket writer," said James Neely, who supervises the city's 54 ticket writers.
Paul H. Davis Jr., chief of DOT's Parking Enforcement Division, said the number of violent assaults against his employes increased from four in 1980 to more than 20 the following year. So far this year, he said, there is no sign that the hostility has abated.
"There's a lot of frustration out there," Davis told a City Council committee last week as he sought to gain its support for legislation that would stiffen penalties for people found guilty of assaulting ticket writers or those who apply boots. "Citizens have twisted arms and necks and it doesn't seem to matter whether they the DOT employes are male or female or what race."
Davis argued to the committee that DOT workers are facing danger to provide the city with an important service that collected $13.6 million in fines last year. He said since the parking enforcement functions were transferred from police to the civilian DOT workers in October 1978, DOT workers have written 3.6 million tickets, towed more than 130,000 cars and booted another 83,000--booting, for the uninitiated, being the fastening of a locking device to a car's wheel, rendering it immobile.
But council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), chairman of the judiciary committee, said he believed existing laws were adequate. He promised to write to the U.S. attorney's office urging that prosecutors apply the assault laws with more vigor when DOT workers are involved.
James Owens, chief of the misdemeanor trial section of the U.S. attorney's office, said he was sympathetic with the DOT workers. But he said he agreed with Clarke that no new laws are needed, and added that many who assault the ticket writers have no prior record of criminal behavior and thus often qualify for leniency by the judicial system.
"These people are not criminals," said Owens. "They are people just sick and tired of people putting tickets on their cars."
At the century-old Gale School building at 65 Massachusetts Ave. NW that is headquarters for the parking enforcement workers, such talk is not considered humorous. "Something has to be done," said Robert Wiley, a supervisor in charge of towing. "It's a snowballing effect."
He said word has got out that anyone can do pretty much what they want to DOT workers and not worry about the consequences because there simply won't be any.
"Each time there is a built-in dispute where someone is going to want to challenge" the ticket writer, said Wiley, a former D.C. police officer who has a BA in psychology and law enforcement. He said that while people know they are not supposed to assault police officers, the parking enforcement workers have no such psychological edge.
Davis said ticket writers in particular have become targets. While a booter affixes his wheel locks to an average of 20 cars a day, and generally does it quickly enough to be out of harm's way by the time the motorist returns, an average ticket writer issues more than five times that number in parking tickets and stands a better chance of encountering the violator.
Louis Mungo, a new parking control supervisor, said some ticket writers have become so fearful of attacks that they have tried to carry defensive weapons on the job. "I have had to stop them from carrying sticks and jack handles in the cars with them," he said.
Not all the parking enforcement workers say they have had problems. "I've never had any trouble," said Howard (Plank) Giles, 53, after almost three years on the job. "It's the people who don't know how to approach some things, don't know how to talk to people." But Giles added that he, too, wants to see harsher penalties for assaults.
Linda Roberts, 29, was sitting in her DOT car at the corner of Independence and Kentucky avenues SE on Capitol Hill in February of this year, preparing to write a ticket for an illegally parked car, when the passenger-side window suddenly shattered. She later learned that she had been shot at with a pellet gun, with the pellet flying right past her face out the open window on her side of the car.
"You got stress everyday," she said this week. "When you walk out in the street, you got stress. Something happens everyday. You might not get punched in the mouth, but something is going to happen to you. I didn't realize that when I took the job three years ago."
Raymond Haynesworth, 26, was shot in the head with a pellet gun last July while he was writing a ticket in the 700 block of D Street NW. "I blacked out and woke up with no one around," he recalls. He used his car radio to call for help and was told to leave the scene immediately. Doctors found metal fragments under his scalp, and he was given two days off for "traumatic injury."
"Now," Haynesworth said, "I guess, I'm a slight bit paranoid."