Tougher laws sought in wake of assaults

After four vicious attacks on The City’s parking control officers last week, transportation and law enforcement officials will try to change state law to offer more protection to oft-dreaded ticket-writing civilians.

Two parking officers received medical attention Nov. 21 after being physically assaulted by enraged motorists in separate incidents. A female officer suffered a concussion and dislocated shoulder when a woman allegedly set upon her after she wrote a summons. She radioed for help, and a suspect, Lina Magailalio, was arrested.

A few hours later, a male officer was sitting in an assigned city car when the driver of a vehicle he had previously cited broke the driver-side window and punched him repeatedly, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency.

“The whole side of his head was swollen and his eye was closed. He’s pretty badly beat up,” said Lawanna Preston, the union representative for the parking control officers.

On Monday, one officer was spat on, while another was followed by a suspect who eventually confronted the officer and punched the windshield of the officer’s vehicle, shattering it, according to the MTA.

This year, 27 parking control officers have been assaulted on the job, according to MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford. Last year, 17 were assaulted.

Ford said the transit agency is working with the police and District Attorney’s Office “to aggressively pursue anyone who puts their hands on our employees.”

After Ford and District Attorney Kamala Harris attended the court arraignment for Magailalio — who was charged with three felony counts of assault, battery and threats — they said plans were afoot to introduce state legislation that would change the penal code to give parking control officers the same protection as police officers or any other peace officers, which would result in more severe punishment for assaults.

“I’ve been taking a critical look at the law surrounding traffic officers. We need to have legislation that specifically protects our parking control officers,” Harris said in an interview Wednesday.

On Monday, MTA officials, including Ford, met with Preston and other union personnel to discuss ways of keeping employees safer. The union and agency will launch a public service campaign to remind citizens that citations can be contested in court, but “if you physically attack a parking officer, every legal thing that could possibly be done to you will be,” Preston said.

In addition to the public service campaign, the agency will train officers in the use of pepper spray and mandate that they carry it. It will also offer officers training in defusing or avoiding potentially dangerous situations, Ford said.

amartin@examiner.com

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