175 threats, injuries to MKE parking officers since 2017; DPW aims to make job safer

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- City leaders are asking ticketed drivers not to take their frustration out on their employees.

Leaders of the Department of Public Works are aiming to launch a pilot program to make the job safer for parking enforcement officers. The Public Works Committee signed off on the plan during a meeting Wednesday, Dec. 1, and it now heads to the full Common Council.

Richard Dollhopf, DPW's parking enforcement manager, said the department began tracking incidents in 2017.

"Since then, there’s been over 175 incidents that involve anything from a threat -- a threat of bodily force to our staff -- to our staff being stabbed and being shot at," Dollhopf said.

"Stabbed?" asked committee chair Alderman Bob Bauman.

"Stabbed. Right," Dollhopf said.

More than half of the incidents happened during third shift. So DPW came up with the idea for a pilot program that would allow officers to issue citations without leaving their cars at night. Nighttime parking citations would be mailed to drivers.

"It is not fair for any city employee to be out on the street conducting the work and the services for the public to be afraid for their life," DPW Commissioner Jeff Polenske said.

Polenske said over the years, the city has tried different strategies to make the job safer for parking enforcement officers, such as teaming them up in pairs in areas police have deemed a higher risk. But he said keeping them in their cars is the best way to minimize risks.

"We have the technology now to be able to take the pictures of the license plate and be able to issue citations via US mail," he said.

Dollhopf told the committee that parking enforcement officers, whose starting pay is around $16-$17 hourly, tend to leave DPW rather than retire, and they often cite safety as a reason.

"Usually it’s a statement like, 'The risk is not worth the pay,' so most people that do leave leave because of safety, as far as I’m concerned," Dollhopf said.

On Wednesday, DPW leaders also provided an update on snow removal to the committee.

"So we are just as prepared as we’ve been in years past to tackle any snow and ice operations that come our way," said Danielle Rodriguez, director of operations for DPW.

Rodriguez said she is still looking to hire people with commercial drivers licenses. DPW has between 70 and 80 open positions, but would typically only have around 20 heading into winter.

"There’s a little more vacancy than I would like to see," she said.

Milwaukee's winter parking regulations are in effect from Dec. 1 until March 1. Anyone who has lived through past Milwaukee winters should know the drill.

"Making room for those snow plows and the salters to get through is vital. Park on the right side of the street: even side of the street on even nights, odd side on odd nights. And just make sure you’re parked as close to the curb as you can possibly get," Rodriguez said.

You can sign up for parking text alerts at milwaukeeparkingalerts.com or email messages at milwaukee.gov/enotify.

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