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Just because you’re upset doesn’t mean it’s illegal.

So I work for a 311 call center (I don’t mind saying so, there’s more than one in the US). If you don’t know what 311 is, we‘re basically a non-emergency services and municipal information line. People call us for all kinds of city-related stuff.

There’s two calls I remember that really irritated the hell out of me because they were both from people who just refused to understand that their sense of entitlement didn’t mean there was actually a problem. In both cases, they were calling to make a report about “illegal parking” that turned out to just be two people who were mad that someone had taken their usual street parking spot. This ended up being much longer than I thought, but it was cathartic to bitch about it.

——

The first call was a couple months back, and this elderly lady was calling to complain about “a car blocking my daughter’s parking space.” She was a little all over the place with what she was saying and was starting to rant, and on top of that she had an accent that made it a bit harder to understand her. Because this is a common thing people call about, I ask, “Is it a car blocking your driveway?”

She says yes, and just to be sure, I ask her, “Is the car parked IN the driveway itself, or is it on the street blocking the entrance?”

“No, it’s on the street blocking my front door.”

Confused, but still trying to clarify, I ask, “Is it parked on the sidewalk outside your house?”

“No, it’s blocking my daughter’s car.”

“So it’s double parked?”

“No, it’s parked where she parks.”

After a few more rounds of questions just to be sure I completely understood her, it eventually turned out that she was calling because there was a car parked in front of her house where her daughter usually parked. The car wasn’t in violation of any laws or anything, and this wasn’t a reserved parking spot—this woman was just mad that someone had parked somewhere they were legally allowed to park.

“But It has [out of state] plates. Parking in this neighborhood isn’t good, my daughter will have to park around the corner and walk farther. This driver from [out of state] shouldn’t be able to park here.”

For what felt like the millionth time, I said, “I understand that it’s frustrating, ma’am, but I can’t take a police report about a car legally parked on the street just because your daughter wants to park in front of the house. It doesn’t matter if it’s from out of state.”

Eventually she hung up grumbling about how we’re useless. Because, you know, if we won’t/can’t accept a police request against someone who isn’t breaking the law, what good are we?

——

This second story actually happened today. Similar situation, guy calls to complain about “illegal parking” on a fairly busy block where he parks before work in the morning.

He explains, “This guy has four cars that he leaves parked on this street and it takes up space. He always moves them from one side of the street to the other during street cleaning hours and then moves them back. He double parks a lot and blocks hydrants and bus stops. We’re taxpayers and it’s really inconvenient for people who need to park here to go to work.”

So, already I know I can’t take a report about abandoned vehicles since they’re clearly not abandoned if they’re being moved. Technically you can report a car as abandoned if you’ve seen it parked in the same spot for a certain amount of time without moving.

I ask, “Okay, is he double parked, blocking a bus stop/hydrant, or in violation of street cleaning rules right now?”

“No, not right now.”

“Unfortunately, if he’s not doing it right now, I can’t take a report on it. You should call back next time you see him doing something like that.”

“But he does it a lot and on top of that he has [out of state] plates or no plates at all on the cars. Some of the tags are expired.”

I explain to him that I can’t report a car that has no license plates unless it seems abandoned, which these cars obviously aren’t, and I’m not able to report cars with expired tags—that’s something for traffic agents to issue tickets for.

“But the plates are from out of state,” he repeats.

At this point, I’ve switched off my headset a few times to swear at him, because he’s just refusing to understand that I can’t take a report if there isn’t currently a violation, even if there’s been violations in the past (what are the police supposed to investigate?), and even if it is a violation to have no plates and expired tags, that’s not a report we take. Again, that’s for traffic cops to handle.

And I’m sorry, but this guy’s cars could have plates from fucking Hawaii, and as long as he isn’t currently breaking any laws, it’s legal for him to do what he’s doing. I’m sorry that you’re mad about parking being worse, truly I am, but you can’t make a report to the police about something that isn’t actually illegal just because you feel entitled to park somewhere that isn’t exclusively reserved for anyone.

Honestly, by the end of both calls, I felt a lot like a teacher having to not-so-patiently explain to a kindergartner that his favorite swing in the public park doesn’t belong to him, and he can be as mad as he wants, but I’m not going to forbid the other kids from using it just because you always use it.

What do you think?

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