Bill Walks the Beat: PEO Training
Walking is one of my most cherished daily routines. After putting in my eight-hour work day, I relish the chance to plug in my headphones, put one leg in front of the other, and reflect on the day that has come and gone. For Parking Enforcement Officers, also known as PEO’s, the majority of their day is spent walking through the City of Brotherly Love.
Preparing to Walk
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Parking Enforcement Officer trainees on the infamous eight-mile beat walk, a requirement for all new PEO’s who join the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
On the day of our long walk, I made my way through the halls of PPA Headquarters to meet the trainee class I’d be spending the entire day with. As I entered the classroom, I could instantly see the trainees’ devotion and concentration. No one blinked or yawned, the way bored students do. Instead, they stared intensely at Lester Lopez, head supervisor and a 19-year veteran of the PPA. It was clear that the trainees were eager to hit the streets!
This was their third day of training and it was going to be the most intense yet. The two previous days were much more relaxed: They were fit for uniforms and they learned parking regulations and the process of writing mock tickets, while sitting in a classroom. As Officer Lopez reviewed how to write parking citations and keep time logs, trainees were encouraged to ask as many questions as possible. The seriousness was unspoken but present in the room: In just a few minutes, the students would be putting their two days of learning to the test.
I asked Peter Free, a PEO trainee and music major from Bloomsburg University, if he was nervous. With confident yet eager look on his face, he said, “Maybe a little bit, but right now its all about making mistakes and learning from them. Lester is a good mentor and he’s helping us become more professional.” Andrew D’Agostino, PEO trainee and former security guard added, “It’s really a lot to learn, but it’s stuff we can learn quickly especially since we’re doing this walk.”
Off We Go!
Our eight-mile trek began at 8th and Market Streets. Each step was greeted by gusts of wind that rivaled hurricane season, blowing hats off trainees’ heads. Undeterred, the trainees scooped up their hats and continued the long trek ahead of them.
We entered a PPA-operated parking lot on the corner. After getting their instructions on how to inspect parking vouchers from Officer Lopez, trainees scattered in search of invalid parking vouchers, which are to be displayed clearly on vehicle dashboards.
Eager to apply what they’d learned in the classroom, the trainees stumbled upon a vehicle worthy of a citation. They immediately whipped out their pamphlets to write their first mock ticket. As trainees etched in the necessary violations, Lopez looked over everyone’s shoulder making sure everything was up to par. When a mistake was made, trainees were obligated to start over again until they got it right.
We continued walking toward Spring Garden where we were scheduled to take a lunch break. During lunch, I spoke with Lopez about the main goals of walking the eight-mile beat. “I’d say the main purpose is to show the length of the work-day,” he explained. “We also need to touch up on regulations and how to actually write tickets in the field and show trainees how to handle the public.”
Handling the public is a major part of the job of any PPA employee since PEO’s don’t always make citizens very happy. No one likes a parking ticket! PEO’s can be heckled by pedestrians as they write tickets or just because of the uniform they wear. Though we haven’t encountered any hecklers at that point, the day was young and we still had five miles to go.
As our legs and feet started to ache, we crossed over boat-house row into University City. While explaining how to inspect residential parking permits, the first group of hecklers emerged from a five story window. As trainees gathered to hear Lopez’s lecture, insults were hurled at them. “Yeah! Lets all stand around a car and issue tickets,” said one of the hecklers sarcastically. Despite the insults, trainees blocked them out and continued listening. “We’re just regular people doing a job. Obviously people don’t like us because we’re the ones who give out tickets, but it comes with the territory,” said D’Agostino as Lopez finished his primer on permits.
Back to the Start
After spending a few hours inspecting residential parking permits, we made our way back to PPA Headquarters while trainees continued to scour the streets for regulation signs. As we came across a car that was about to park illegally, Lopez kindly explained the regulations to the citizen so she wouldn’t receive a ticket. His professionalism toward the citizen offered a glimpse at how to properly engage with a citizen, one of the main goals of walking the beat.
Feeling sore and tired, we finally made it back to PPA Headquarters. Earlier in the day, Lopez assured us, “Y’all are gonna be tired by the end of the day, I can promise you that.” It was only the third day of training, and yes, we were indeed tired, but the determination and devotion displayed in the classroom carried onto the streets.
During the beat walk we got a first-hand look at what Philadelphia, their future office, looked like. With three more weeks of training ahead of them, with more beats to walk, the PPA looks forward to welcoming them into the family of PEO’s.