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Inspector General calls out CPD for illegal parking; police bike lane blockage needs to stop too

A squad car parked in a bike lane in front of the the Bucktown library (which has a parking lot), forcing a cyclist to ride in the mixed-traffic lane. Photo via Bike Lane Uprising

As a livable streets advocate, I appreciate police officers who do their job in an equitable and ethical way. They play a key role in keeping all road users safe by enforcing traffic laws in a fair manner and serving as first responders to crashes. And in some cases it truly makes sense for officers to bend or break parking rules in order to get to trouble spots quickly.

But, as we've pointed out in the past, in many cases police block crosswalks, sidewalks, or bike lanes with their squad cars, not because there's any emergency going on, but because it's the most convenient way to grab lunch or a cup of coffee. That's an abuse of power that's counterproductive to promoting public safety, and undermines respect for the force.

While today's announcement by the city of Chicago's Office of Inspector General didn't call out the aforementioned parking fouls, it did highlight other parking violations by police that endanger the public, or at least represent a misuse of their privileges. The OIG has released an advisory which finds that CPD officers and other staff have been violating ordinances against parking in fire lanes, under the lowest portion of fire escapes, and on the same side of any exit of a theatre building, causing a potential safety hazard. In addition, the OIG stated that CPD members have been misusing parking placards to score illegal parking spots for themselves and their family and friends near City Hall, as well as at CPD district parking lots to attend nearby sporting events.

The CPD issued directive #236336 on February 7, 2018, banning the provision of preferential parking by CPD members, but the OIG found that preferential and illegal parking is still happening. The inspector general's office recommended that that CPD strictly adhere to the directive and enforce disciplinary action for employees who disregard it. The OIG also recommended that the CPD issue a departmental policy requiring that CPD-issued parking placards be used only at the locations designated on the placards and used only by authorized CPD members for official CPD business.

In response, the police department stated that reserved parking at CPD lots is for on-duty personnel only, but without having someone patrol these lots, people -- both officers and civilians -- may be able to park there illegally. In other words, they don't plan to do anything about the misuse of the lots by off-duty officers and their family members and buddies.

In response to the misuse of placards near City Hall, CPD stated that as of November 2018, members who were assigned at City Hall have stopped parking at West Court Place (the alley between Randolph and Washington streets) and North LaSalle Street, and City Hall officers have retrieved the parking placards that were previously provided to CPD personnel.

“We appreciate CPD’s compliance with retrieving placards that were previously provided for City Hall parking, as well as the discontinued use of prohibited parking," Inspector General Joe Ferguson said in a statement. "However, the lack of enforcement of city municipal code and CPD’s directive presents an image that CPD does not have to adhere to policies and procedures, and that rules don’t apply to sworn personnel. When departments choose not to comply with the municipal code, it sends a message to city employees as well as the communities they serve. We hope the department re-evaluates its position.”

An undercover officer parked in a bike lane. Photo via Bike Lane Uprising.
An officer in an unmarked car parked in a bike lane. Photo via Bike Lane Uprising.
An undercover officer parked in a bike lane. Photo via Bike Lane Uprising.

I asked OIG spokesperson Natalie Kuriata if the OIG's office has been looking into incidents of police parking in bike lanes. "Nothing came up in regards to bike lanes during this particular investigation," Kuriata responded. "If you by chance have heard of such instances, I recommend submitting a complaint. Additionally, if you have ideas about [transportation]-related issues (bike lanes, or otherwise) that we should audit or inspect, I recommend you submit ideas or comment on our upcoming audit plan. We’re always looking to stakeholders and the public to help inform our work and raise the pressing issues that need to be examined throughout the city."

Christina Whitehouse, who runs Bike Lane Uprising, a local website that documents bike lane blockage, said she plans to reach out to OIG about police parking in bike lanes, which her data indicates is a major issue. "Not only are CPD officers not ticketing drivers who block bike lanes or even assault cyclists, but our database of over 14,000 Chicago bike lane obstructions, shows the Chicago Police Department are themselves are top bike lane obstructors."

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