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New technology helps track parking in St. Joe

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- It may look like Big Brother, but it’s actually a big improvement for parking enforcement in the city of St. Joe.

Though summertime is winding down in the popular city on the lake, city leaders’ effort to improve parking is only ramping up.

“It makes my job more efficient because I can cover the city, the downtown areas, faster,” said St. Joe Public Safety Parking Enforcement Officer Buzz Holmes.

Holmes is not necessarily a “robo-cop,” but his new decked-out vehicle brings him one step closer.

Complete with two lasers on the roof, a radar detector, and four cameras mounted on the back, the police cruiser Holmes now drives around to enforce the city’s parking regulations is a serious upgrade.

The system is known as “autoChalk.”

It’s a far cry from the 5-mile-minimum of “chalking and walking” Holmes used to do each day – where he’d walk the various parking areas in downtown and mark a tire on each parked car with some chalk, leave the area, return two hours later, and see who overstayed their welcome.

“It got frustrating because I couldn’t cover the city as well as I wanted to cover it,” he said.

But now, he covers a lot more ground with a lot more help.

The system determines if cars are parked legally through GPS tracking, license plate recognition, and photographs.

“So if anybody says, ‘Yeah, that’s my car, but that’s not where I was.’ We can show them the picture and say, ‘Well, this is what we captured.’ And then work the issues out from there,” Holmes said.

He operates it all from the seat of his car.

He activates the cameras with a joystick, types in information on a mounted laptop, and uses a tablet to print out each ticket.

St. Joe Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Steve Neubecker said the system comes from a company in Canada.

He said it was purchased through city funds, so no extra cost to taxpayers.

“It’s saving our parking enforcement officer from walking up to 10 miles a day,” Neubecker said. “He’s in a vehicle efficiently writing citations. He’s safer in a vehicle with emergency lights on it, rather than walking and chalking every vehicle into the street.”

The new technology also allows Holmes to enforce parking not only in downtown St. Joe – where there’s a 2-hour limit in most sections – but also down by the beaches, where you need a permit or have to pay.

Though traffic is slowing down now that summer is ending, Holmes said he’ll be out in his new ride year-round, in all types of weather.

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