Union Police -- stock

Cars parked in the city of Union’s business district will no longer have their tires chalked.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled in late April that the chalking is a violation of the Fourth Amendment and considered an unlawful search. The decision is based of a 2017 case brought by a woman, Alison Taylor, who was issued 15 tickets in three years in Michigan.

The court agreed that tire chalking is considered a search, but didn’t think it was a reasonable search and therefore unlawful.

Union Police Chief Andrew Parker said that although the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals doesn’t oversee Missouri, the decision has had an impact.

Parker said the city’s traffic enforcement officer has long used tire chalking to enforce parking code in downtown Union, including the Historic Courthouse square and extending a block in each direction. 

In that area parking is limited to two hours. Parker said the idea is to provide customers access to the various downtown businesses. 

To make sure no one is taking up a spot all day, Parker said Union police would place a chalk mark on a vehicle’s tires several times a day. The chalk mark goes away once the car moves, but if the car stays put, the traffic officer can tell the car has been parked illegally.

Parker said once the appeals court decision came down, the city put away its chalk. He said he has had discussions with City Administrator Russell Rost and City Attorney Matt Schroeder. 

Parker said everyone involved felt stopping was the smart thing to do for the city. While the decision by the 6th Circuit is likely due for an appeal and could end up taking years to decide, the city could face legal trouble stemming from any tire chalking under the 6th circuit’s precedent.

Other Options

Parker said the next step is to figure out how to legally enforce the parking restriction. He said a discussion on the topic is likely for a future board of aldermen meeting.

Parker said several scenarios have been discussed around the office, but all have potential down sides, such as taking pictures of the parked cars.

He said pictures would show cars in spots, but they wouldn’t show if a car had moved in the time between the two pictures being taken. For example, a car could park in a spot, leave for an hour and come back to the same spot.

That vehicle would not be in violation of the parking restrictions, but on still images it may look like a candidate for a ticket.

Another option is installing video cameras, but that would be costly. He said the cameras would have to be high quality to get a clear image of license plates. Plus, an officer would have to watch a feed and log the cars which would require a lot of manpower.

A third option would be a throwback to more than 25 years ago, Parker said. As a lifelong Union resident and police officer for more than 30 years Parker remembers when the city had parking meters.

He said the city had meters throughout the downtown area, but they were taken out in the late 1980s/early 1990s. He said meters would solve the enforcement issue conundrum pretty soundly.

There is a downside — cost. Parker said reinstalling the meters would not be cheap and he doubted the city would get reimbursed by the low fees the meters would generate. 

Parker added he recently was in the city of Clayton for a court date and he noticed there were parking meters all around. He also noticed a parking enforcement officer who drove through the area checking for expired meters. Just like with the surveillance cameras, a dedicated meter reader would not be cheap either.

For now Parker said he’s in the process of checking with other municipalities to see how they intend to enforce street parking in a world without tire chalk. He said he hopes to have ideas to discuss with the board of aldermen.