October 2, 2013

Parking Meter Probe Results Imminent

An internal investigation into a possible scheme allowing employees of local businesses to park in metered spots without paying while meter readers look the other way, possibly in exchange for free food, has been concluded. The results, which could decide the fate of two parking enforcement officers who have been suspended without pay, will likely be discussed at the next meeting of Princeton Council, the town’s administrator said yesterday.

“The investigation is pretty much complete,” administrator Bob Bruschi said Tuesday. Mr. Bruschi said he was expecting a copy of the report the following day, and would go over it with police Captain Nick Sutter and municipal attorney Ed Schmierer before deciding on the next step. “The good news is that we looked into whether there were also concerns among [other] sworn officers and personnel, and none of that came out,” Mr. Bruschi said. “We thought there could be some allegations going beyond parking enforcement, but we have seen no evidence of that.”

The investigation was stepped up after a story about the parking meters was broken September 23 by the news website Planet Princeton. Illustrated with several photos, the story revealed that over a period of several weeks, parking officials Chris Boutote and John Hughes were not ticketing certain vehicles, many of which had cards, bags, and coasters displaying logos of local stores including Olive’s, Triumph Brewery, and D’Angelo’s Market on their dashboards. The vehicles were parked up to 10 hours at a time without being ticketed, while others were immediately tagged when their meters ran out, the story said.

The two officers, who are civilian employees of the Princeton Police Department, were suspended without pay the following day. Both are full-time employees. Mr. Boutote is a retired police officer in the former Princeton Borough.

Princeton police had been looking into the situation since the summer, based on complaints from citizens and members of the department.

“We’ve taken the matter very seriously,” said Mayor Liz Lempert. “As I’ve been saying, it’s appalling. Nobody should be getting special treatment. No one likes getting a parking ticket, but it’s important that everyone be treated the same.”

Ms. Lempert said she got a ticket in town last week. “Unfortunately, it’s not my first,” she said. “But it’s the way it should be even if my car is recognized. If I park in a spot for too long, I should have to abide by the same rules as anyone else.”

The police department has been under scrutiny in recent months. On August 28, seven officers filed a lawsuit accusing former chief David Dudeck of harassment and inappropriate sexual comments on several occasions. The suit names Mr. Dudeck, the police department, and the town.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office was informed of the recent investigation, and will be notified of the results, Mr. Bruschi said. “We will probably meet with the prosecutor’s office and that will play into our decision-making,” he said.

While the meter readers are suspended, their jobs are being done by police officers and a part-time person who is filling in, Mr. Bruschi said.