Stu Bykofsky: The fact of the meter is, PEOs have tough job

Parking Enforcement Officer Ken Giusini, who was punched by an irate ticket recipient.
Parking Enforcement Officer Ken Giusini, who was punched by an irate ticket recipient.
Posted: August 15, 2011

"WHAT WOULD you do if someone spit on you?"

That's a question asked of Philadelphia Parking Authority job applicants - because Parking Enforcement Officers get spit on. They get called filthy names. They get assaulted.

Nine PEOs were assaulted in the past 12 months. Verbal abuse is much more common.

Welcome to the world of the PEO - the few, the brave, the arrogant, the diligent, the despised.

Because I heard that recent Daily News columns about PPA mistakes and abuses pushed PEOs into the bull's-eye, I asked PPA to get me some to interview. I'll assume PPA selected smart, kind and articulate PEOs. That's OK, because they do exist and probably outnumber the numb nuts.

The main result of recent columns (including mine) was a jump in the number of people using cellphones to take pictures and video of PEOs, to the point of harassment, according to the four I interviewed.

Even without the press criticism - based on citizens' complaints about ignorant, rude or callous behavior - PEOs have a thankless and sometimes dangerous job. There are only 225 of them - seems like more, doesn't it?

Some recent incidents reported by PEOs:

* After writing a ticket on Locust Street in Center City, Ken Giusini says, the driver "started cursing me and called me all types of foul names, so I turned my back and started walking away" from the 6-foot, 240-pound, white lug in his 40s. PEOs are trained to walk away from confrontations.

The driver continued to curse and threaten Giusini and then "reared back and punched me right in the nose," says Giusini, 54, who's very fit. He was treated at Hahnemann's emergency room for lacerations.

An arrest was made, and there's a September court date. The D.A. wants a nonjail Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. "The city wants to charge a fine for punching me in the face and call it settled?" asks a ticked-off Giusini.

* Thin, soft-spoken Felicia Lovelace, 36, was writing a ticket for an expired meter at Germantown and Chelten. The driver came running up, ranting about "black bitches" and "stupid asses."

Lovelace, who is African-American, described the man as a 6-foot African-American in his mid-30s. She tried to walk away, but he threw a punch that caught her on the left side of her head, and he then "kept on punching until a person on the street stopped him."

The gutless bully drove off. Police tracked down the car's owner, who was not the driver that day. When police asked him who was driving, "he got amnesia," says an irritated Lovelace.

"I'm not going to lie: I really was scared to come back to work," she says. "I don't want to be hit again."

Connie O'Connor, director of on-street parking, says PEOs are "not protected in any way. They're not carrying a gun, they don't have bulletproof vests, they don't have pepper spray." Because they could be fired if they fight back, they are easy prey.

*  Annice Wojcik, 51, says she was manhandled outside a bank at Broad and Jackson by a middle-age white woman who had demanded leniency. Earlier, in Old City, a Hispanic woman in her 20s screamed, "I'm gonna blow your f---ing head off," then reached under the dashboard. Cops were called; the woman took off.

* Jimmy Fuscellaro, 29, ticketing in the Northeast, says he was hit in the back of the head with a brick, then kicked while he was down, by a 20-ish, 5-foot-10 man. Fuscellaro got a concussion and doesn't think he had ticketed the assailant, who got away.

When motorists plead for leniency from a PEO, there's a reason they usually don't get it.

"We have been told that if we walk by a ticket, they will personally take our badge off us right on the street," says Giusini. In the two-hour interview, other PEOs expressed fear of losing their jobs if they ignore violations. That's one reason they don't want to exercise "discretion."

"My son leaves for college in two weeks," says Lovelace. "I can't lose my job. I don't want to be hard on anybody, but I'm going to do what I'm supposed to do."

Still, they agree that their relationship with most of the public is good, even the ones who good-naturedly kid them about being the "stars" of A&E's "Parking Wars."

It's a hard job, it's an unpleasant job, but it's a necessary job.

"Can you imagine what Center City would be like if people thought there was no chance whatsoever they would get a ticket?" asks Wojcik, suggesting that cars would be parked everywhere. "You think you'd be able to walk down the sidewalk, even?"

And that's no punch line.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

 

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