Whether you’re a frequent parking offender or you’ve never gotten a ticket, if you’ve been to Lake Forest, you’d recognize the Community Service Officers (CSO). The Lake Forest Police Department’s two CSOs – Dennis Smith and Brian Esmon – serve as the self-described “eyes and ears” for the officers, and perform a variety of duties – ranging from giving tickets and directing traffic to animal control.
Smith has been a CSO with the LFPD for over 27 years, and can often be found behind the wheel of the scooter that routinely patrols the cars parked in Market Square.
“It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter…it’s pretty uncomfortable,” he said about the scooter. “But it does have a radio and a police radio.”
Smith – who is on the job Monday through Friday – starts marking tires in downtown Lake Forest around 8:30 a.m. Then, about 90 minutes later, he makes his second round. (The parking in downtown Lake Forest generally ranges from 90 minutes to three hours.) He notes that he’s seen just about every trick in the book from people trying to avoid getting tickets – ranging from people who set phone alarms so they can move their car just before the time runs out to those who try to erase the marks on their tires.
“Everyone tries to play the game,” Smith said. “To them, it’s a game.”
Lake Forest parking tickets vary in price, with most of them being around $15. If an offender gets three tickets in 12 months, that price goes up to $50 per ticket, and if the offender gets ten or more tickets in a month, it goes up to $100 per ticket.
“People will flip you off, cuss at you, swear at you,” Smith said. “Around this time of year, I get ‘Where’s your Christmas spirit?’”
Smith said that he usually doesn’t respond to sarcasm, saying that he understands why they’re upset.
“I could be a smart alec back at them,” he said. “But nobody likes to get parking tickets.”
Smith, who enjoys gardening and making homebrew beer in his spare time, spent many years predominately working with animal control in the city, ranging from catching stray dogs to dealing with deer.
“I do miss working with animals,” he said. “With animals, you know what you’re getting, as opposed to people. With people, you never know which way they’ll act.”
Karl Walldorf, the Deputy Chief of Police with the LFPD, explained that, upon receiving a parking ticket from the city, the offender can either pay the amount if they are guilty or can instead have an administrative hearing at City Hall. If three hearings are missed, then it’s assumed that the offender is guilty. If an individual has enough outstanding unpaid parking tickets, collections is set to get the money – which can really add up.
“It gets to be a lot more money the longer you go without paying,” Walldorf explained.
But the Lake Forest CSOs handle a lot more than just parking tickets.
Brian Esmon, the other LFPD CSO, handles predominately animal calls and traffic incidents, including accidents and lockouts. Much of his job, he explains, involves driving around the city and looking for anything unusual.
“You’d never hear me complain about this job,” Esmon said. “I can’t imagine myself sitting behind a desk for eight hours per day.”
Esmon notes that the strangest parts of his job usually involve the animal calls, which can range from an injured goose to a loose swan that left someone’s private pond.
“I once had someone say they saw a peacock in their backyard,” he said about one of the strangest incidents he ever had to handle. “It turns out somebody in the neighborhood had a wild bird collection and the [animal] had gotten loose!”
Esmon also write tickets for the department, especially around the beach in the summertime where prices can be steep – one ticket will cost you $125.
“I’ve had people get mad at me,” Esmon said. “But usually if you explain why [they got the ticket], or if you educate them on what they can do different next time…they’re more understanding toward the end of the conversation.”
But, when it comes down to it, Smith points out that it’s pretty easy to avoid getting a ticket while parking in Lake Forest.
“Just watch the signs!” he said. “We’re really not out to get anyone.”