West Lake Hills considering deputization of citizens for parking enforcement

Application allows authorized users to log and report violators

Robert Meisel, West Lake Hills associate judge, and Parking Mobility Project Director Mack Marsh spoke to City Council on Jan. 8 about the implementation of a deputization process for West Lake Hills residents to limit those who abuse handicap parking.

Marsh told council that those who are interested participate in four hours of training and are appointed by the city. Selected individuals are then authorized to "rat-out" offenders with the use of a smartphone application.

The training emphasizes that the individual is not a peace officer, Meisel said.

"Some people get excited and get in the face of someone who parks illegally," Meisel said. "The program teaches people to not be confrontational."

Marsh said using the app is actually quicker than writing out a ticket.

"A ticket takes about 15 minutes to complete, leaving a lot of time for confrontation," he said. "The app takes about three minutes, and all the information is automated."

Users take three pictures of the offending vehicle—from the front, rear and the vehicle parked in the handicap space. The information is then submitted to the PMP database, Marsh said.

The information submitted is looked over by the organization to make sure the process has been followed and that users are not targeting specific people.

Marsh said the app has a few hundred thousand users worldwide and about 1,000 in Travis County, but only those deputized by West Lake Hills provide data to the city. The rest of the information is gathered by the app creator, which Marsh said could be useful as there has never been a study on the prevalence of able-bodied people using handicap parking.

"18 percent of our [U.S.] population [is] people with disabilities," Marsh said. "Only 4 percent of our parking is set aside for people with those needs, and a quarter of that is being abused at any given time."

Offenders found guilty of parking illegally have three choices, Meisel said. They can pay the ticket, go to court or take a course offered by PMP.

"[Taking the course] is a simply a good way to generate citizen involvement," Meisel said. "I think some people park in those spaces without the knowledge of the hardship it creates on people who already have hardships."

Council did not make a decision during the Jan. 8 meeting and revisited the topic at the Feb. 12 meeting. West Lake Hills would be the second municipality in Texas to adopt the use of the app. Hays county began using the app in 2013.

Those interested in learning more can contact Marsh at [email protected] or call him at 512-981-9628.