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Under new management, Public Safety issues nearly twice as many parking citations

This parking sign, in the Meyers West lot, is one of many on campus that are fading. These signs will be replaced soon. (Northern Review photo/ Grant Pepper)

Over the first two and a half months of the 2017-18 school year, there have been nearly twice as many parking citations issued on campus than there were during the same time span last year.

From Aug. 1 to Oct. 19, the ONU Public Safety department gave out 480 parking tickets and warnings. During that same period last year, they gave out just 257, according to the Public Safety office.

This is because the ONU Public Safety department -- which was recently rebranded from “ONU Security” -- is under new management.

ONU hired Greg Horne, who formerly served as the police chief for the City of Findlay, as the new Public Safety director last year. When he began in January, Horne (below) said that parking citations (or the lack thereof) were a “big, hot topic here on campus.”

"I came to the university in January last year and one of the main complaints everyone had -- including faculty, staff, students and visitors -- was the lack of enforcement on parking," Horne said. "We have been receiving complaints from faculty, mainly about students parking in various lots, taking their spots."

Citations were handed out inconsistently before Horne’s hiring, which led to confusion and complaints.

“When I came in, I found that enforcement wasn’t something that the officers were doing consistently, so I started to have them actually go out and issue the citations to try to correct it,” Horne said. “Because it was like a zoo.”

When Horne arrived at ONU, he found that less than half of the students had purchased a parking permit (which cost $65 for a year-long permit or $40 for a semester permit), although all students technically need one to park on campus.

Just as the Public Safety department has issued more parking citations this year, more students have bought parking permits as well, according to the Public Safety office.

If students live in campus housing, their permit only allows them to park in the lot designated to their residence. Students who live off-campus are considered “commuters” and can park in most lots designated to academic buildings. Faculty and staff have the highest range of parking availability, as they are able to park in 14 different lots on campus.

But Horne believes that there is some confusion amongst students as to where they can and can’t park. While some of that is due to the prior lack of parking enforcement, Horne said that students may also be confused by the fading signage that marks each lot.

“If you notice, there’s a lot of faded signs,” Horne said, noting that some signs -- like the one by Biggs -- is clearly red, while others -- like the one marking the Pharmacy lot -- is too faded to tell whether it is red or orange. “It’s one of those things where you look at it and you think, ‘What color is that?’”

Horne is currently working with the university to get new parking signs for each lot, with fresh, visible colors to indicate who may park there. He said that the new signs should be up by Thanksgiving.

The new chief is also working with student RAs and RDs, telling them to inform their residents of where they can park on campus, and to warn them of the department’s increased enforcement this year. This officer-to-student interaction is something that Horne hopes to do more of in his time at ONU, as he tries to rebrand the Public Safety department.

But regardless of Horne’s efforts, many students are still uninformed -- and less than enthused -- about the rise in citations this year.

Junior accounting major Sean Grady received two parking tickets in two days less than a month ago. He walked out of class one day to find a Public Safety officer placing a ticket on his car, which was parked in the Dicke lot. Although the lot is technically reserved for faculty, staff and commuters, Grady said that he has parked in the lot for three years and has never been given a ticket.

The next day, Grady was given a ticket while parked in the Clark lot, which is the closest lot to the library. The lot was “less than halfway full,” according to Grady, although he received a ticket because the lot is technically reserved for faculty, staff and residents of Clark, Stambaugh or Lincoln residence halls.

“What do you expect me to do?” Grady told Horne in his office after he received the second ticket. “I pay so much money to go here. I just wanted to park here so I could study and then go straight to basketball right after.”

Sophomore pharmaceutical business major Bayley Boston said that she parked in the Freed Center lot for two weeks straight, but then “one day I randomly got a ticket.”

“I feel like they just assume everyone knows the rules when realistically we have no idea,” Boston said. “Like they told us stuff freshman year but after that we’re suppose to know what’s happening.”

Horne has said that even though some students seem frustrated with the change in enforcement, most have been respectful to the department about it.

“For the most part, the students are a little upset but they’re alright with it,” Horne said. “But then we’ve had some students that’ve been really ugly about it.”

Some common complaints that Horne hears concern the fines associated with parking citations. Fines can range anywhere from $15 (for improper parking) to $95 (for parking in a restricted area without a permit) or higher, depending on the offense.

Horne also considers the fine amounts to be “stiff,” as he noted that “that’s a lot of money to people that are already paying a lot of money to go to school.” But the fine amounts are decided by university administration, not the Public Safety department. Horne wants to have a discussion with the university about the fine amounts, and would like more input from students on the matter as well.

Another complaint that Horne hears is that, if a student lives on campus, they are only allowed to park in the lot designated to their residence. This means that students are expected to walk to and from classes instead of driving, although Horne says this is a doable task.

When Horne was in school at Bowling Green State University, students had to park off-campus if they wanted to bring a car to school, and they had to walk to all of their classes because they were not allowed to drive.

“We had to walk all that way, we had to walk to all our classes. And I can say first-hand, I can remember how Bowling Green’s flat like this, it’s freezing,” Horne said. “Or when it’s raining and you have to go from this point to this point within 10 minutes in between classes… I know first-hand what it’s like, and I know it kind of stinks. But this is a smaller campus than that and it’s supposed to be a walking campus.”

Given the concern amongst students surrounding the rising number of citations issued, sophomore business majors Ethan Flemming and Sam Arnold decided to focus their final project in their Business Writing class on studying student parking concerns.

The group -- which also includes junior Drew Ridgeway and freshman Olivia Ames -- wanted to gather student opinions on parking to present to the Public Safety department at the end of the semester. The questions asked were meant to gauge student awareness of permitted parking areas and their opinions on issues related to campus parking.

The survey ran from Oct. 22 to Oct. 29 and was open to all ONU students. The question was posed, “On a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest), how familiar are you with the ONU parking map and where your designated lots are located?” Of the 162 students that responded, over half rated their knowledge of the parking map a three or lower.

“We’re really trying to make this more of a student-friendly parking situation, because we know that a lot of the students aren’t happy. I know, myself, I’ve gotten three parking tickets in two days. So, we would like to make the parking lots a little more available to students,” Flemming said. “We feel as though the only purpose for cars now is to store them on campus and just drive them home. It saves a lot of time just to drive to classes, so in the long run, I think it will be beneficial to the students as well as the campus community, just to be proactive.”

The group hopes to provide the Public Safety department with student opinions on campus parking and a proposed business model to fix any commonly discussed problems at the end of the semester.

This is the kind of outreach -- communication between students and the department -- that Horne, nearly one year into the rebranding process, hopes to sustain and grow.

He hopes to acquire a larger staff, so he can potentially dedicate specific officers to each campus residence hall, to increase the department’s presence on campus. He also hopes to improve the reputation of the Public Safety department through increased dialogue between officers and students.

“When you see [Public Safety] now, they’re either unlocking or locking doors or writing you a parking ticket. And that’s very negative,” Horne said. “So if we get to working with the people in the residence halls and the students, I think it’ll be much better.”

To that end, Horne is welcoming any feedback that students or faculty may have as to how campus parking can be improved. But as for the stark rise in tickets and warnings issued this year, he can’t apologize for inconsistency in past policy. This is his department now, and this is his job.

“You’re going to see more [tickets]. I can’t speak for why they didn’t do it before, I can just do what I’m responsible for since I’ve come here,” Horne said. “So I’m making [the officers] go out and do more.”