There is a parking enforcement officer who stands every day at the entrance of a parking garage on Spring directing traffic whom I am very fond of. She has stood there every evening for years, blowing her whistle and putting up her lighted wand to stop cars coming out of the building at 1101 Third Avenue so that I can continue up the city’s second-steepest sidewalk in safety and without interrupting my stride. We always exchange a greeting and a word about the weather. She mans this post for several hours every day and leaves promptly at 6 o’clock. During the early part of her shift she drives a “meter maid” cart, and I recently saw her patrolling through Post Alley in it. She honked a greeting. I stopped and chatted. I like her. She is a real person. Her name is Linda.
I make a point of telling you this — and I’ll come back around to it — to balance the observation, actually the complaint, I am about to relate. I hesitate to post this because I can sense the bad attitude wellin’ up inside me here. But this is my experience and I offer it for your amusement / edification / conderation and rebuttal / what-have-you.
Today as I walked down Second Avenue a motorized vehicle whizzed past me on the sidewalk at a speed that I’m going to suggest was between 18 and 25 miles per hour. It went past my left shoulder just as I was about to turn my body that way to look behind me (perhaps some part of my inner hearing registered its approach).
I started when it zipped by, then I grew cross. It was one of the new three-wheeled scooters made by T3 Motion that the Seattle Police Department’s parking enforcement officers (PEOs, they call themselves) have been trying out this year. According to the Seattle weekly newspaper the Stranger, these things can go 18 m.p.h., and according to the company’s website it will do 12 m.p.h. in its standard form and 25 m.p.h. with an optional upgrade. They are faster, therefore, than Segways, which only go 12 m.p.h. and have also been used by police in Seattle, and they are a lot beefier.
The officer sped down the sidewalk standing on her scooter, weaving among pedestrians at what I considered — just one concerned citizen’s opinion here — an inappropriate speed, especially since it turned out that the situation she was responding to did not involve any individuals in danger. When she got to Union, she parked her T3 and dismounted to issue a ticket to a person who had just managed to plead their car off of the tow-bar of a Lincoln Towing truck.
This is the third time I have nearly been bowled over by PEOs on scooters. The first time it happened I was rounding the corner of University onto Fourth Avenue, at the northwest corner of the Olympic Hotel. Two officers riding T3s shot out in front of me along Fourth Avenue and sped through the crosswalk across University. I stared agog while my spine finished chilling. They had nearly mowed me down. Both happened to be female officers and though I don’t know how the term is defined medically, in my opinion both were obese. (That is a separate issue, one that has in fact been taken up loudly by bloggers and commenters, but added to the insult of being nearly flattened by officers of a constabulary that is sworn to “protect and serve” me — with my own tax dollars, too — it seemed to push the event into the realm of the psychedelic to witness this miscarriage of public trust and treasury. Of all Seattle’s patrol officers, these two should have been using their feet.)
I blew my steam to a friend and forgot about it, until it happened a month later. Again it was at a corner, and again the officer was travelling athwart my path too fast to be able to respond to anything unexpected. It was a good thing my own wits were about me. If I had been running to make the perpendicular crosswalk, there would have been blood.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should aver that I have no love of the police in this town as an institution, and that I believe the institution as a whole is prone to a view of itself as “enforcers” more than as “stewards”; further, that what police officers the world over often seem most eager to protect and serve is property, rather than citizens and their rights. In Seattle, instances of excessive force and the abuse of authority are frequent and don’t seem to be unequivocally addressed. The Seattle Police Department in fact has a bad reputation.
Once I was jaywalking, which is not lawful in Seattle, near Fourth and Stewart, and another man was jaywalking in the opposite direction nearby. The other man was dressed shabbily and walked somewhat unhurriedly. I was dressed business casual and was crossing the street with purpose. A squad car swooped in with a siren burst and a patrolman leapt out and stopped the other man. The other man muttered something he shouldn’t have, probably feeling understandably picked on. I heard the officer say loudly, “Are you sure you want to take that attitude with me, sir? Because I can make your life hard if that’s the way you want to go.” It was ridiculous self-importance, bullying and bluster. Somewhere else, a crime was probably being committed (and it goes without saying, I was not approached*). The scene reminded me of that chapter in The Lord of the Rings where Captain Faramir busts Gollum for fishing near his camp and sentences him to death.
“Only empty. Only hungry; yes, we are hungry. A few little fishes, bony little fishes, for a poor creature, and they say death. So wise they are; so just, so very just.”
It also reminded me of my worst moments of parenting, when I see myself as the “enforcer” and I’m insisting on obedience and respect for my authority way beyond the point when Mara might possibly be edified by my taking a firm stance.
That’s as far as I’ll go here, because a) I don’t want my blog to be political, activist, or a platform for griping, and b) I do not dislike individual officers that I know and in fact I admire all persons who are willing to serve the public with their lives and c) this is about the scooter.
I would even go so far as to say that I like most people that I actually meet. I might like the two officers who nearly ran me over at the Olympic Hotel if I got to know them, but I don’t know them. Until I know them, I don’t like them. Until I know them, they represent an abstract institution that displays, as an institution, tendencies of which, as noted before, I am unfond. By contrast, having people in my daily routine like Officer Linda, and Ben at Turco’s Last Stand, and my Real Change vendor Ed, who sits in his wheelchair at the corner of Third and University three mornings a week, and my friends at the coffee shop, and Shoe Shine Eddie, and other locals as I can find them, gives my day the humanity it would lack if all I was doing was shuffling around unknown among tall buildings.
I understand that we need police, and it’s fair for the city to collect revenue by taxing the outwearing of welcome in a particular parking spot or disregard of zoning. But we need a humane institution, not Robocops putting pedestrians at real risk of harm.
On the way up the hill to the bus tonight, I paused to ask Officer Linda if she ever drives one of those stand-up scooters. It had occured to me to wonder if I would be so indignant if I found out it had been she, or that it could have been.
“Oh, you won’t catch me on one of those things,” she said with a shudder. As soon as I heard this I realized it was obvious. She’s a feet-on-the-ground kind of cop. She listened to me tell about my three unpleasant experiences with these new machines, and she was very interested. I told her how the fact that the scooters are electric makes them super quiet and thus even more dangerous at high speeds. I had expected her to distance herself from my grievance in solidarity with the Force, but she didn’t.
“Was it a heavy-set gal?” she asked.
“Yes!” I said, surprised. “At least it was the first time.”
“Yeah, that’s V– “, and she actually mentioned an officer by her last name. She pulled a business card from her pocket and with her gloved hand wrote on the back of it the names of two managers in the police force that I should call and submit a complaint to. “This guy [she pointed to the first name], it’s his pet project. If they ask you what you want to talk to him about, just say you want to talk directly to him. You don’t have to name names, just tell him your concerns about safety.”
I demurred, suddenly wishing I had kept the whole thing to myself. But she said it’s a safety issue and that as a concerned citizen I should call. Something should be done about it before someone gets hurt.
“And don’t let them shine you off,” said Linda. “Sometimes they’ll try to do that. If you don’t get anywhere with the first guy, call the second one.” At the very least, she suggested, the officers should go slower and shout out to people as they’re driving past them on the sidewalk, since the scooters are so quiet (a constructive approach; I hadn’t even thought of that).
My appreciation of Officer Linda rose a few more points and my cynicism about the institution dropped one or two. I wished her a good night and ran for my bus, leaving her at her post at the edge of the street, her lighted wand a beacon in the rainy dark.
I’m not confrontational (I have a blog instead), so I don’t know that I’m really going to call the police and tell them their officers need to be reined in a little. But I’ll tell you this: I have stepped in the green and fibrous manure of horses that the mounted police officers sometimes use to patrol near Pioneer Square and the waterfront, and it doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as being buzzed by these T3 scooters. I consider their use by the police a dangerous, wasteful and pointless extravagance.
*However, I did once see a plain-clothes policeman stop a visiting middle-aged couple from one of the cruise ships and ticket the woman for jaywalking. The husband was incredulous, struggled to keep his temper, and kept looking around as though he expected to spy the camera crew of some reality show.