Paved Perspectives: A Police Captain’s Unexpected Journey into the World of Parking


Paved Perspectives: A Police Captain’s Unexpected Journey into the World of Parking

I will be the first to admit that I am not passionate about parking. A bold statement for someone on the cover of Parking Today. When I became a police officer, and for the majority of my career, I rarely thought about parking. As a patrol officer, I had the same parking ticket book in my patrol bag for years, pulling it out maybe only a dozen or so times to write a parking citation at the request of a community member.


As a field supervisor, parking enforcement was something that happened during day watch and had its own chain of command. Once I moved into administration, parking management was something that happened in another bureau of the department. Although I was loosely aware that parking management lived inside the police department, I had very little contact with anything related to parking, or anyone related to it.


However, when I was promoted to captain, I suddenly found myself in charge of two major components of the Seal Beach, CA, Police Department’s Support Services Bureau: Animal Control and Parking Management. Neither of which I had any real knowledge or experience. 


When I embarked on my journey in policing, I could have never envisioned that my career path would lead me to managing a municipal parking program. It has been a surprising and rewarding journey, one that has allowed me to witness the intricate intersections between law enforcement and community service. What started as a professional obligation has evolved into a field in which I am continuously challenged and always learning. It has been through these challenges that I have learned these six major lessons about parking: 


Parking Touches Everything

Parking, much like public safety, touches every part of city government. From traffic congestion mitigation, the complexities of easements, private and commercial lots which influence economic development, there is not one area of municipal government that is not impacted by parking. In Seal Beach, where the police department shoulders the responsibility of parking management, it is essential to acknowledge that public works, community development, finance, marine safety, and all others have contributed to the holistic management of parking. I am extremely grateful for the support received from our partners across various city departments. This support is invaluable, exemplifying the spirit of collaboration that is fundamental to the successful management of Seal Beach’s parking program.


Parking Management is a Critical Aspect of Local Government

Often, parking management is discussed in terms of the number of citations issued and the amount of revenue generated from non-compliance. Ideally, an effective parking system should minimize the need for extensive enforcement by fostering frequent turnover and ensuring ample available parking to meet community needs, and fostering economic activity for local businesses and for city government. While revenue plays a role in offsetting management costs, the conversation should center around the principles of parking equity and access to the curb. 


Particularly in poorly managed or free parking zones, the absence of a structured system disrupts the balance, resulting in a scenario where everyone pays for parking in the form of congestion, reduced accessibility, and increased costs. Parking management directly affects a community’s quality of life, and the requirement to balance the needs of residents, businesses, visitors, employees, and everyone who parks, is a major responsibility for municipal managers.


Technology is a Double-Edged Sword

Navigating the realm of parking technologies presents a unique problem for local governments. While technology makes parking management more efficient, the challenges posed by aging infrastructure and multiple vendor systems which do not communicate well with each other brings a decrease in effectiveness which must be addressed. The imperative lies in ensuring the integration of technology that supports a parking program that is not only efficient but also effective in meeting the diverse needs of the community. 


Managing this delicate balance involves working with multiple and competing vendors, a task that underscores the lack of a one-size-fits-all turn-key solution. Instead, effective parking management necessitates a custom approach for each agency, tailoring technology and systems to address the unique needs and complexities inherent in each city’s own needs.


Frontline Parking Enforcement Personnel are Unsung Heroes

For many years, I had no idea the impact that frontline parking enforcement personnel had on our community. These dedicated employees are so often overlooked for the multifaceted roles that they play in our agencies. Serving as the initial point of contact between the public and local government, they are ambassadors for the city, community caretakers, and adept customer service representatives. Their duties include far more than just writing tickets. They are often tasked with traffic control, congestion mitigation efforts, and placing themselves in dangerous positions on our busy roadways. 


However, one alarming issue has emerged—the distinct lack of officer safety training for frontline parking personnel. This type of training needs to be prioritized by parking managers. The significant efforts of frontline parking personnel must be acknowledged and celebrated, recognizing their pivotal contributions to the wellbeing of the community.


The Field of Parking is Rapidly Changing

Parking stands at the forefront of a rapidly evolving landscape, shaped by advancements beyond just technology. The integration of electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, gateless solutions, license plate readers, and artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the parking experience, ushering in a new era of efficiency and convenience for users. Beyond technological shifts, legislative efforts aimed at addressing critical issues such as the housing crisis, caring for those experiencing homelessness, and economic development also cast a significant impact on parking management. 


It is critical that local governments and parking managers contribute their wealth of experience to these discussions and actively engage with groups to educate and inform elected officials about the potential unintended consequences of these bills. Proactive involvement ensures that the future of parking aligns not only with technological progress but also with the broader goals of social and economic betterment.


The Parking Industry is Built on Relationships

One resounding theme has emerged from my experience in parking—the industry is built on relationships. There is no way to navigate this landscape alone, especially for someone who is still relatively new to the industry. Regardless of how much experience a person has in parking, collaboration between city departments, vendors, contractors, and everyone who has their hand in parking is key. 


Networking at events such as the Parking Industry Exposition, National Parking Association, Southwest Parking and Transportation Association, and the California Mobility and Parking Association conferences has proven invaluable. These gatherings not only provide opportunities to connect with fellow parking professionals and vendors but also offer a platform to attend presentations and gain knowledge about how parking works. Most importantly, the warm welcome and willingness I encountered to share insights and answer my hundreds of questions have exemplified why I’ve come to appreciate this industry so much.


My journey into the world of parking management has been a transformative experience, one that began without a pre-existing passion for the field but has since evolved into a deep appreciation for its intricacies and impact. I find immense fulfillment in contributing to positive change within my department and community, and the support I have received throughout this process has been truly remarkable. 


My gratitude extends to my parking colleagues, whose encouragement and collaborative spirit have made this journey both rewarding and enlightening. Special acknowledgment goes to Seal Beach Police Services Manager Michael McDonald for his invaluable expertise, and I am profoundly thankful for the unwavering support from City Manager Jill Ingram, Chief of Police Michael Henderson, previous parking manager Police Captain Michael Ezroj, the Seal Beach City Council, and the community as a whole. 


I am incredibly proud of the achievements of this team and those who came before me that enabled Seal Beach to be the first West Coast city to have a fully integrated, end-to-end parking management system and to win the Parking Today Technical Innovation – Innovative Parking Solution Award in 2019. Most importantly, my sincere appreciation goes to the hardworking frontline parking personnel, whose dedication and commitment to their challenging roles on a daily basis inspire me. They are the ones who are out in the elements working every day to keep our community safe. 


As I look ahead, I am excited about the prospect of continuing my work in parking, driven by the shared goal of fostering positive change and enhancing the parking experience for all.


Captain Nick Nicholas,  has been with the Seal Beach Police Department since 2010.  He has served as the Support Services Bureau Captain, where he oversees Parking and Animal Control Services.  He previously served as the City’s Public Information Officer.  He also worked as a patrol watch commander, field training officer, terrorism liaison officer, explorer post advisor, homeless liaison officer, beach/bike patrol officer, and was assigned as the Department’s Narcotics Detective.  He is recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police as a Drug Recognition Expert and is a licensed Emergency Medical Technician.  Captain Nicholas holds a master’s degree in Political Science and a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration.  He is also the Department’s Police Facility Dog Handler and works every day with his partner K-9 Yosa. 

Article contributed by:
Captain Nick Nicholas, Seal Beach Police Department
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