After a female parking officer was allegedly pushed by a taxi driver while issuing a ticket near Yorkville earlier this week, the Toronto police parking enforcement unit is sounding the alarm about a sharp increase in assaults against its officers, saying they've more than doubled in the last two years.
Assaults against the officers climbed steadily from 16 in 2014 to 37 in 2016, representing an increase of more than 100 per cent, according to parking enforcement operations supervisor Brian Moniz. This year alone, there have already been another seven assaults, he says.
The majority of the incidents involve officers being pushed, shoved or having their feet or arms hit or run over by vehicles, Moniz told CBC Toronto.
"Unfortunately, a lot of times I think people just see the uniform and they obviously don't know us as individuals. We're human just like everyone else," said Peter Bouhs, a shift supervisor with Parking Enforcement West.
"They don't realize that when they're assaulting one of us, we are actually peace officers in the course of our duties — and they will be charged with that," he said.
Bouhs says general frustrations among drivers, the hustle and bustle of city life and simply a bad day often can make the routine job of a parking officer a challenge.
Racism, physical assaults not uncommon
And he's not alone.
Nigel Fernandes has been doing the job for some nine years. During that time, he says he's experienced everything from obscenities hurled at him, racial remarks and once had a woman drive over his foot.
"Fire [services] came and literally had to cut my foot out of my boot," Fernandes said. "One foot is probably a quarter of an inch larger than the other, so I do notice."
"You don't want to have a criminal record over a parking ticket. It's just not worth it." - Peter Bouhs, Parking Enforcement West
The job can take a toll on officers, says Fernandes, who see everything from severe accidents to children being left alone in vehicles.
"It's an emotional beat-down every day but we learn to persevere and work through," he said.
Bouhs says another possible explanation for the increase could be a spike in fines by the city for certain kinds of offences.
Fines for certain offences up too
Last spring, the city raised fines by as much as $110 for drivers caught blocking a sidewalk, parking in a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane, double parking or stopping in a TTC zone.
Parking officers are trained to avoid confrontation at all costs and calmly explain to people what their options are for fighting tickets in court, says Bouhs.
"But if they feel that they are in danger, then we're obviously going to call the police," he said.
Ultimately, he'd like the public to understand officers are just doing their jobs.
"You don't want to have a criminal record over a parking ticket. It's just not worth it."
As for the taxi driver in Wednesday's incident, he was arrested, police said in a a release Friday — and charged with assaulting a peace officer.