For veteran L.A. traffic enforcement officer Marcia Bulpitt, writing tickets is only part of the job description
By Gary Walker
As a Los Angeles traffic and parking enforcement officer for 13 years, Marcia Bulpitt has learned to expect the unexpected whenever she reports to work.
One incident in March underscores how unpredictable each day can become. Bulpitt, a training officer, was substituting for a traffic enforcement supervisor when an urgent call came to the West Los Angeles office.
“The area where I was working had a Code David, which is a bomb scare. I had to speak to the police officers and deploy units to cordon off the area where we were and make sure that all of my people were far enough away that no one could be injured. I didn’t come into work expecting to do that,” she said with a laugh.
While all days don’t begin with bomb scares, traffic enforcement officers do more than write tickets.
They help keep the city’s streets clean and safe by responding to abandoned vehicle calls, blocked driveways and fire hydrants and direct traffic at intersections during power failures or signal outages, said city Dept. of Transportation spokesman Bruce Gillman said. In addition, they sometimes function as “first responders, augmenting LAPD and LAFD during emergencies, natural disasters, major accidents and fires,” he said.
Bulpitt was assigned to the Westwood water main breaks on Sunset Boulevard last year for traffic control duty.
“It’s always exciting and interesting,” she said. “I’ve had instances when I couldn’t call the police for help because my radio didn’t work and I had to talk my way out of the situation.”
Bulpitt recalled an incident several years ago where an irate driver became incensed after she gave him a citation: “I was trapped between the car and the guy, and he told me that he was going to beat me up in not so nice terms. That was one of those times when I had to get somewhere and call for backup because it became a scary situation.”
As a training officer, Bulpitt has handled all of the duties that traffic officers do on a daily basis, but she primarily spends her days checking vehicles that have been in the same location for 72 hours or more and having them towed if they have exceeded the allotted time.
On a ride-along in March with Bulpitt and Sgt. Kimmie Porter, Bulpitt’s first stop of the day was in Mar Vista near the 10 Freeway off Globe Avenue. Bulpitt had written a citation for a tan-and-white 1984 Tioga Arrow Ecoline 350 van three days earlier, which now made it eligible for towing. A neighbor called to complain about the RV multiple times, prompting a visit by Bulpitt, who had marked the rear tires on her first visit. The second time Bulpitt checked the RV, she put a chalk mark on the tire stems. “That shows me if the vehicle has been moved at all, even an inch,” Bulpitt explained.
After knocking on the door of the van several times to see if anyone was inside and checking to the RV’s tires to see if it had been moved since her last visit, Bulpitt called Bruffy’s Tow in Del Rey to have the RV removed.
Porter, who has been with the traffic bureau for 29 years, said towing a vehicle is a last resort after the owner of the vehicle has been warned. Some noncompliant vehicle owners have learned to be evasive, and “Sometimes it becomes like a cat and mouse game,” Porter said.
Removal of vehicles that stay in one location for weeks or months at a time is one of the city’s ways of combating blight, Porter said.
“Some of the people who live in these neighborhoods consider the RVs to be eyesores, especially if they’ve been in one place for a long time and aren’t in the best condition,” she said.
Mar Vista has a high number of complaints about RVs parked on residential streets — especially streets where there is a small amount of traffic, Bulpitt said.
Los Angeles collected $161,146,212 vehicle citations during the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to Porter. That sum did not include vehicle impounds.
“When I issue a ticket to somebody and they’re so nice about it, it makes it difficult for me because I wish that I didn’t have to. I don’t like giving tickets to people that I like,” Bulpitt admitted. “Some people actually break down and start crying. You feel for them but there’s nothing that you can do. Regardless of what some people might think or say, our department policy says we cannot take [citations] back.”
Bulpitt said she even gave a ticket a friend once. “I didn’t know it was their car. The running joke with my friends is if you know me, you know better. My husband got a street cleaning ticket once and he called and asked me if there was anything that I could do. I said, ‘Yeah, you can pay it,’” she said with a laugh.
During a check on a white RV parked on Westminster Avenue a few blocks west of Globe, Bulpitt saw that the vehicle had been moved since she marked its tires. She decided to verify the registration’s authenticity by radioing her department’s communications office because there are occasions when traffic officers find cars with false registration tags. This time, the tags were legit, but that isn’t always the case.
“There was this one time that I was putting the tags of this vehicle into my computer because I looked at them and I still wasn’t sure. So I called an auto status on it and, sure enough, it was a fake,” she said.
Bulpitt often finds herself engaging in spontaneous interactions with the public.
Rufino Escarcega, who lives on Lucille Avenue in Venice, stopped Bulpitt as she was checking cars parked in a two-hour parking zone to inquire about acquiring a handicapped sign for his elderly mother.
“She’s 93 years old, she doesn’t walk that well anymore and we want to get her a permit. Who do I talk to about that?” Escarcega asked.
After referring Escarcega to the city’s Dept. of Transportation to obtain the permit, Bulpitt said this type of unexpected interactions gives her an opportunity to assist the public.
“I hope it lets them see us as public servants who are just doing our jobs and that we’re not here just to write parking citations,” she said.
Bulpitt said she never saw herself working as a traffic officer. For several years, she worked as a hostess at the former Furama Hotel in Westchester.
“It was a union job with very good benefits, so I was skeptical about leaving. My dad worked with the Department of Water and Power and he recommend that I take the civil service test. I took it, and a year later I got a call offering me a position with DOT.
“I almost didn’t take the job,” she said. “I look back and I’m glad I took it. I don’t regret it for a second.”
As she headed back to Mar Vista from Venice, Bulpitt said that while most people are rarely happy to see traffic officers, without them a city the size of Los Angeles could have even more blight and parking nightmares.
“We’re not the bad guys. We’re just out here trying to keep a little order in a city that’s hectic,” she said.