Last week, campus police got a familiar phone call from the school’s parking officials.
A parking permit prominently displayed on a car’s dashboard in the Mesa Parking Structure had caught a Transportation and Parking Services worker’s eye. After some scrutiny, TPS employees determined that the permit was a forgery, and contacted the police.
“We were able to track down the owner of the vehicle and as soon as she approached the car she broke down crying and said she had made a mistake,” UCSB Police Dept. Sgt. Matt Bowman said. “She confessed to buying a valid permit the previous day and then taking it home and altering it on her computer and displaying the same permit in her window the following day.”
Although the 19-year-old perpetrator received a $500 ticket and a misdemeanor, she lucked out in one sense: if she had falsified a permit for one of the campus’ newer parking lots, she would be facing felony charges.
Last fall, Transportation and Parking Services, under a recommendation from campus police, began printing permits on paper bearing the California state seal. This simple maneuver makes individuals who produce counterfeit permits guilty of forgery – a serious criminal conviction.
“This specific law makes it a crime to falsify a state seal. Adding the state seal to permits makes it a bigger crime to falsify permits and makes the crime easier to prosecute,” Bowman said. “In this instance we are using the seal to deter crime because now instead of a misdemeanor it becomes a felony.”
As a result, illegal replication or alteration of a UCSB parking permit is now a felony offense under California Penal Code 472. In addition, students found to be in possession of a falsified permit will be subject to a separate $500 parking citation issued by the university.
Students have long been fabricating parking permits, Bowman said, but new technology and advanced forgery techniques have exacerbated the problem.
“People attempting to circumvent paying for parking has always been a problem on this campus,” Bowman said. “Students at this campus are sophisticated and the technology is good enough now with colored scanners and ink jet printers that they think they can create false parking permits [and] get away with it.”
Robert Defendini, Director of TPS, said that although permit dispensers in high-traffic areas have been equipped with the new seal-bearing paper stock, it will take up to six months to update remaining machines, like the ones at the Mesa Parking Structure.
In the meantime, Defendini said his department has stepped up patrols.
“We have expanded enforcement to extend later in the night all the way into the morning as well as adding weekend enforcement,” Defendini said.
Bowman said the objective of the harsher criminal sanctions is to deter individuals from engaging in criminal activity.
“Our hope is to make the public aware this is a significant crime,” Bowman said. “A $500 ticket plus felony charges. This is a much higher threshold of conviction which could come up in job interviews or have to be disclosed in graduate school applications and prevent employment.”