Ticket time

Amy Harris, with the Walla Walla Police Department, photographs license plates this morning on her phone to determine later if the car has been parked for longer than two hours in downtown Walla Walla on First Avenue.

A new tool for enforcing city parking laws and an officer to use it could be in the Walla Walla Police Department’s near future.

Walla Walla City Council is scheduled to approve a $29,882.58 automated license plate recognition system at its regular meeting tonight.

As well, the Walla Walla Police Department is searching for a new parking enforcement officer, with applications due by March 16.

The money for the license plate recognition system was set aside in the department’s operations budget for 2020, according to the city.

The device will be mounted on a vehicle, likely a scooter. It collects license plate information as the vehicle drives by parked vehicles, allowing the parking enforcement officer to better and more accurately determine potential parking violations.

The device, from Vigilant Solutions LLC, also has a GPS and camera. Currently the enforcement officer walks through two-hour parking zones in the city at various times and takes photos on a cellphone.

The longtime practice of chalking tires has been called into question recently. A Sixth Circuit Court ruled in May 2019 that chalking tires in timed parking zones violated the Fourth Amendment.

Although Walla Walla falls under the Ninth Circuit Court, WWPD Chief Scott Bieber said then the department’s legal advice was to discontinue chalking tires due to a likelihood of a similar suit. He added he was unaware of any ruling banning the use of photography when a car was parked in a public area.

Bieber said he wanted the automated license plate recognition system then, but he estimated the cost was between $50,000 and $60,000 for one vehicle.

So the city’s only parking enforcement officer at the time, Amy Harris, used her work-issued smartphone to take photos of vehicles, including their surroundings to note where they were, to do her job.

She then uploaded the photos to her work computer, per the state records retention schedule, and only kept them if she issued a ticket. Drivers received a ticket if they were still parked in the same vicinity when she returned more than two hours later.

The new system forced her to take the same routes, but begin snapping photos in different areas.

“It makes it a lot harder,” she said in an earlier interview. “It’s more time consuming.”

With chalk, she could get the whole downtown area daily, but after the ruling, she had to balance her time enforcing residential areas and parking lots.

Soon she won’t have to worry about it. Harris was chosen as be a code enforcement officer at the department starting March 1. But until a new parking enforcement officer is hired, Harris is splitting her responsibilities between the two jobs, Sgt. Eric Knudson said.

The WWPD began posting for Harris’s vacant position in February, Knudson said, and as of earlier this week had 41 applicants. Their testing will be from March 31-April 1, he said, and they must also pass an extensive background and reference check before continuing in the selection process.

If the City Council approves the automated license plate recognition system, Knudson said the department would like to have it in time for the new parking enforcement officer to train on and use.

Emily Thornton can be reached at

emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.