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New 'spotsquad' app would allow people to nab illegal parkers, get cut of fine

Some entrepreneurial Winnipeggers are set to unleash an army of bounty hunters keen on nabbing people who park in disabled parking spots without a permit or in front of a fire hydrant.

All that would be needed is a smartphone and the “spotsquad” app.

Co-founder Chris Johnson says he and his partners haven’t yet signed any agreements to give informants a percentage of any ticket fines, but he adds that some private parking lot operators are interested.

He says while many people say they would never snitch on a fellow driver, he expects they would privately jump at the chance to make a couple of bucks while cracking down on inconsiderate parkers.

The app would allow people to snap a picture of a parking violation and send the photo to police, private parking operators or city wardens. A parking warden could then be dispatched to issue a ticket.

If a ticket resulted in a fine, under the plan, informants would get a cut deposited into their bank accounts or could direct the cash to their favourite charities.

“If you can snap a picture and make $8, who’s not going to do that?” Johnson said Tuesday. “Especially when you already wish that guy wasn’t getting away with (breaking) the law when you’re staying within the lines.”

The app isn’t unique. Parking Mobility, an organization in Texas, has one which allows deputized, trained volunteers to take photos of people who park illegally in disabled spots. When drivers are fined, part of the proceeds go to charities and a program to educate offenders about the consequences of their parking infractions.

Mack Marsh, project director for Parking Mobility, said the idea works well in the United States, where the organization has worked for years to negotiate agreements with police departments and cities.

But he said the “spotsquad” concept of people personally profiting from telling on parking violators won’t fly.

“There is not a city in the world that would allow that because what you create then is vigilantism. When the individual who reports a crime profits from the reporting of that crime, then that crime is no longer enforceable,” Marsh said. “There is not a court in the world that would uphold that type of violation.”

Johnson said he doesn’t see it that way.

“People look at it the wrong way (like) we’re building an army of snitches. But if you look at it the right way, just don’t park illegally and we won’t have a problem.”

Using social media and modern technology to shame poor drivers is nothing new. There are thousands of websites designed to publicly expose and denounce poor parking.

One Edmonton website developer created iparklikeanass.com — a forum to post photos of terrible, inconsiderate parking jobs. He also sells personalized parking tickets which can be left on the windshield of the offending drivers’ cars, asking them to show their fellow motorists more respect.

Johnson said his app benefits everyone: from the parking authority which generates more revenue by collecting more fines to other drivers who don’t have to contend with inconsiderate parking that might clog traffic.

“The aim is just to make the streets a safer place. It’s crowd-sourced parking control.”

Parking Mobility is doing a trial in Vancouver and Marsh said it’s been disappointing. For one thing, unlike in the U.S., parking abuse on private property can’t be reported.

“It has to be on-street parking,” he said. “While the program is still active there, we have very little generation of anything … mainly because the citizens are frustrated that their violations can’t become anything if they’re on private property.”

Brian Bowman, a Winnipeg lawyer specializing in privacy and social media law, said the app could open up a legal minefield. It’s unclear if charter rights would apply or whether a person taking a photograph would be bound by the same privacy laws as public sector workers, he said.

Just because a car is parked in a public place, that doesn’t mean the driver can’t expect some privacy rights, Bowman suggested.

“It’s a novel way of dealing with something that annoys a lot of drivers,” he said. “I’d say make sure they do their due diligence from a privacy perspective so when they do go live, they’re not being challenged from a privacy perspective.”