For all that residents and visitors complain about parking in Downtown DeLand, no one actually seems able to dislike the man in charge: Parking Enforcement Officer Brian Roberts.
Roberts, a native Central Floridian, has handed out an average of 11 parking tickets a business day for the past six years. Even so, during our brief interview on the streets of Downtown, he was greeted warmly by nearly half a dozen passersby.
“Well, it’s only a $9 ticket,” Roberts said.
Downtown DeLand tossed its parking meters years ago, and maintains free parking for residents and visitors, but the trade-off is time limits — two hours in some parts, three in others.
Roberts enforces the limits by drawing a line in chalk on a back tire — if the tire hasn’t moved by the time he swings back around in his route, he issues a parking ticket.
That means some who work in Downtown DeLand play a daylong game of musical cars — running out every two or three hours to move their cars from one space to another.
“They usually have their routines down,” Roberts said. “Even if they get a ticket, they’ll be like, ‘OK, you got me.’”
Not that he actually wants to hand out tickets.
“I’m never out to get anyone,” Roberts said. And if the car owner is actually present when the time expires, Roberts will often give that person a break.
Revenue generated from tickets for the City of DeLand is about $35,000, or 0.29 percent of DeLand’s general fund. The cost of having Roberts to produce that income is about $30,000 a year in pay, along with full benefits like health insurance and retirement.
So, parking is at best a break-even operation in Downtown DeLand as the city, in line with its generally quaint Downtown theme, maintains a quaint profession: an actual human, walking the streets, armed only with a chalk stick.
Usually it’s peaceful, as well as quaint. Roberts is generally not subject to outraged drivers screaming at him about $9 parking fines, he said.
“The only time I have people freak out is when I try to help them,” he mused.
Many cities in Central Florida, like Winter Park, have eliminated the human touch, and have switched to LPR, or license-plate-recognition software. Violate the parking rules, and a computer will generate your fine.
The highest-tech equipment Roberts has is a brand-new golf cart, secured by Police Chief Jason Umberger around Christmastime 2018.
When Roberts first met the police chief, he said, the chief asked if there was anything the parking officer needed.
“Just kind of throwing it out there, I said ‘a golf cart would be nice,’” Roberts said.
A year later, Roberts got his cart. It helps on hot days, or when his back is acting up.
“Sometimes people lost their cars, and I’d walk around trying to find them,” he said. “Of course, that hasn’t happened since I got the cart.”
The official parking-enforcement golf cart can reach blistering speeds of up to 21.7 miles an hour.
“Downhill,” Roberts added.
Roberts is in it for the long haul.
“I enjoy this — walking around, being with the people. I can’t imagine being in an office anymore,” he said. “If you enjoy what you do, how much of a job is it?”