Teddy bears, tow trucks, and tickets: La Habra's parking enforcement crew keeps positive despite difficult interactions

By Elysse James

La Habra Police Department’s parking enforcement officers know the city’s streets intimately.

After all, their entire shift is spent traveling around town, enforcing La Habra’s parking rules.

The three parking enforcement officers patrol the streets of La Habra following the street sweeper, enforce the cities overnight parking ordinance, help clear roads for large events, remove traffic hazards, control traffic at major accident scenes, keep an eye out for stolen vehicles, and more. They know each neighborhood and recognize the usual vehicles — and those that might not belong.

La Habra Police Department Parking Enforcement Officer Rosie Ramos.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“You know which cars are going to move and which cars are not,” said Parking Enforcement Officer Rosie Ramos, who’s been on the job three years. “You have your residents that may be problematic because they just leave their cars there and they don’t care one way or the other… Sometimes the contact is pleasant, sometimes it isn’t, but nobody likes to receive a ticket first thing in the morning so we kind of understand.”

Each officer is assigned to a section of the city, and they patrol the same routes each week, so they get to know some of the residents, too. They even have fans among the children who bring them flowers and holiday cards, and come out to say hello as the street sweeper drives past.

That’s why it can be especially awkward when an interaction goes sour. These officers know they will see that person again, and soon.

Anahi Guillen, left, Rosie Ramos, and Mario Velasquez talk about their experiences as La Habra Police Department’s Parking Enforcement Officers.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

During one recent shift, Ramos was citing cars on street sweeping day when a resident attempted to get into their car and flee in hopes of avoiding a ticket.

“It was a young driver, so he got nervous and he backed his car into the front of my vehicle,” Ramos said. “That wasn’t good. He was so frantic that he couldn’t get away in time, and he unfortunately ended up getting the ticket anyways.”

“You’d be surprised there’s so many people that just jump in their car and just take off,” she said. “And I’m not going to chase them down. (They’ll) get it in the mail.”

People will often act like they don’t see the parking enforcement car with the flashing lights and will try to drive away without interacting with us, Ramos said.

One time, a driver waited for Parking Enforcement Officer Anahi Guillen to round the cul-de-sac so he could scream at her as she followed the street sweeper.

Guillen waited for police officers to arrive and talk the man down.

“He was one of my irate people in the city I had to deal with that day,” she said. “He knew I was going to have to come past his house.”

La Habra Police Department Parking Enforcement Officer Anahi Guillen.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

After incidents like this, some people avoid eye contact. But others own up and apologize. The officers try not to take it personally.

“It’s funny when you get a ‘sorry’ the next week,” said Guillen, who’s been a parking enforcement officer for La Habra Police Department for 5 years. “It’s one of those moments where you can talk to them and bring them to a calmer place.”

One man even laid down on the street in front of a tow truck to prevent his car from being towed due to his registration being more than a year expired, said Parking Enforcement Officer Mario Velasquez, a former police Explorer.

“He ends up pushing me against the tow truck,” said Velasquez, a La Habra native. “I told him, ‘That’s not the smartest thing to do.’ He ends up running around the tow truck and runs to the front of the tow truck and lays underneath the tow truck driver’s front tires.”

When backup arrived, Velasquez said, the man ran into his house and refused to come out.

“There was a warrant attached to the car,” Velasquez said. “People’s moods change real quickly when you’re out there.”

Dealing with negativity is the toughest part of the job. The three often meet for lunch so they can unwind and discuss the morning’s events. The officers find that it’s helpful to talk to their partners as a reminder they are not alone, and helps them recharge for the afternoon shift.

“We’re close knit, so that’s the benefit,” Ramos said, adding that there are very few bad days on the job.

“I can just work with good people and find solutions and learn something new every day,” Guillen said. “It doesn’t get boring.”

La Habra Police Department Parking Enforcement Officer Mario Velasquez.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Velasquez mostly works nights and doesn’t see many people like the officers who follow the street sweeper.

Late one night, he stumbled across a car parked on a side street with some interesting accessories.

“I go down there, and this car is covered in teddy bears,” Velasquez said. “He has teddy bears in front, on his hood — he has one big teddy bear on his roof, and I run the plate and it comes back stolen. That was kind of unique.”

“When I contacted the owner of the car they said that those teddy bears were not theirs and most likely the person that stole the car had left them there,” he said.

One of their favorite tasks is looking for stolen vehicles. In January, Velasquez found eight stolen vehicles.

“I just get a good feeling out of finding them,” Velasquez said.

Recently, he discovered a stolen 18-wheeler in a commercial area of La Habra. Officers opened the trailer to find $1.5 million worth of stolen property.

“That was just an amazing feeling,” he said.