An alert, ticketed — and ticked-off — “06880” reader writes:
I’ve been a railroad parking permit holder for 20 years. Today I got a ticket because I couldn’t find a spot in a permit lot.
The town has changed the lot by Exit 17 from being permit-only to daily parking only.
I don’t get it. I pay for my permit, yet when I catch a later train (9 a.m. today), I get stuck with a daily fee ticket?
When I went to the police station, I was told that having a permit does not mean you get a space. It strikes me that the town is forcing permit holders who come later in the morning to pay twice to park: once for the permit, then for the daily fee. Do I have this right?
Not exactly. I contacted Foti Koskinas, Westport’s police chief who also administers railroad parking.
He says that the police monitor parking spots every day. There has never been “no parking” for permit holders. In fact, he says, Lot 3 — on the south side of the tracks — has 75 to 100 spaces open every day.
What the department has done is change some of the parking distribution. After taking surveys and watching traffic patters, they realized that the limited number of $5 daily parking spots in each lot caused daily parkers to drive from lot to lot, searching for them.
Now, 2 lots — #4 and #8, one on each side of the tracks — are dedicated solely to $5 daily parking.
By parking in one of those lots — when permit places were available elsewhere — the “06880” reader took a spot away from a daily parker. That’s why he got a ticket, Foti says.
“Just because you have a permit, that doesn’t mean you can park anywhere,” he emphasizes. “We have 6,000 to 8,000 commuters a day. There’s a real science to this.”
In other railroad parking news, new lights will be installed Friday.
When Foti Koskinas was sworn in as Westport’s police chief a few weeks ago, one of the speakers was Marty Bell.
Seven years earlier, the 2 men had a contentious relationship. Bell had beefs with the Police Department, where Koskinas was deputy chief. They battled hard. Now they’re buds.
That tells you nearly all you need to know about our new top cop.
But you should also know this. Among the folks Koskinas wanted to invite to the swearing-in were 2 from his Long Lots Middle School days: principal Dan Sullivan and teacher Sandy Ikard.
Both eased Koskinas’ transition, from a 6th grader new to the US unable to speak a word of English, to a 7th grader with friends, an active social life, and a love for school.
Neither could make the ceremony. But the fact that the police chief wanted them there speaks volumes.
In fact, Koskinas’ journey — physical and metaphorical — deserves its own book.
Westport Police Chief Fotios Koskinas.
His route to Westport began in 1981 when his father Evangelos — a Greek sea captain and part owner of a shipping company — decided his children should be educated in the States. He chose Westport because a friend of his brother lived on Tomahawk Lane.
“Looking back, it was a huge adjustment,” the police chief says. “But I was welcomed with open arms.” Sullivan, Ikard and many other staff members helped. Within a year, Koskinas felt comfortable.
Some of those Long Lots friends came to the swearing-in ceremony too.
At Staples High School, Koskinas played football, wrestled, and joined Bruce Betts’ volleyball club.
He entered the University of New Haven, planning to study engineering. But many of his friends were in the school’s vaunted criminal justice program. At the time, Dr. Henry Lee was there too, working on the Richard Crafts “wood chipper” murder case. Koskinas changed majors.
He applied to the FBI, and took the US Marshals Service test. He also took the Westport Police exam, and was offered a part-time position. He headed to the state Police Academy.
Koskinas has been here ever since. As a sergeant, with a newborn daughter, he had a chance with the FBI. He turned it down, to stay in Westport.
The position he’s moved into — and the department he now heads — is in good shape, Koskinas says. He praises his predecessor Dale Call for handing over a force that needs “no immediate fixes.”
Both Koskinas and Call are Staples grads. Thirty or 40 years ago, that was true of nearly every officer. Most lived in town.
That’s one of the biggest differences today, Koskinas says. Though Sam Arciola and Vincent Penna of the command staff are residents and natives, few other cops are true Westporters.
Many live in Monroe, Shelton, Trumbull and Stratford. Others commute from as far as Oxford and Southbury.
“People come in for their 8-hour or overtime shift,” Koskinas says. “They do a great job. But when it’s over, they immediately head home. They don’t shop here, go to restaurants here, get their entertainment here. They don’t get to know the local residents in their off hours.”
Call, Koskinas and others — including Staples grad Ned Batlin — have tried to create stronger ties, particularly at the youth level. They’ve helped organize “Dodge a Cop” dodgeball tournaments with Staples and middle school students, among other initiatives.
As deputy chief, Foti Koskinas (left) played on this winning Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball team.
That human touch is key, Koskinas says.
“The most crucial part of policing is how officers treat everyone — from the first time the call comes in, to when they pull away in their car at the end.”
Some are frivolous, of course. But, Koskinas notes, “every call is important to the person who calls.”
His officers can train with guns and tools, the chief adds. Yet the most vital training — and highest priority, and toughest — is “how to be a human being.”
That means shifting from the “warrior” us-against-them mentality, to a “guardian” mode.
Koskinas credits Call with bringing experts to help train officers in areas like de-escalation and mental illness. He made sure to put at least one officer with special crisis training on every shift.
A monument outside police headquarters honors fallen officers.
The Westport Police Department’s strength, Koskinas says, is “without a doubt, our people. We’re very fortunate to have a good, highly educated, hard-working staff. They’re very vested in what they do.”
As chief, Koskinas has several roles. He makes sure his officers have the best training, tools and cars (“that’s their office,” he explains).
He listens to their concerns, and lets them know they’re valued. “My success will be based on how well they answer calls,” Koskinas says.
He also listens to – and understands — the public. “I’ll disagree when I have to, but I’ll always respond when I can,” he says.
He gives high marks to Westporters. “They almost always ask for what they deserve. They’re very reasonable. Their requests are not unrealistic.”
Westport’s finest, at the Memorial Day parade. Former chief Dale Call is 2nd from left, flanked by (from left) Sam Arciola, Foti Koskinas and Vincent Penna.
Yet the new police chief is no miracle worker. At any time, there are only 6 or 7 officers on a shift. They answer calls, write reports and handle evidence.
The total force of 63 is down from 72 a decade ago. “We’ve been told to reduce head count,” Koskinas says. “That’s a reality. The town is not less safe than it was. But when people talk about not seeing what they think is enough traffic enforcement, that’s where those 9 positions would help.”
The message he wants Westporters to hear is seen at the bottom of his letterhead: “With courage, to protect the rights of all people.”
Koskinas is proud to treat everyone with utmost respect. “I’ve arrested some real bad guys,” he says (and, though he downplays them, he has the decorations to prove it). “But they leave with respect for the way they were handled.”
The chief wants Westport to know one more thing: “My command staff and I have a true open door policy. Every phone call will be returned. That’s the only way we’ll get better.”
And when you hear Foti Koskinas’ voice, you’ll never know that just 25 years ago, he was a newly arrived 6th grader — a boy who spoke not one word of English.
Hundreds of commuters saw Sunday’s “06880” post, on commuter parking at the railroad stations.
But no one read it more avidly than Fotios Koskinas.
The Westport Police Department oversees the Saugatuck and Green’s Farms stations. As deputy chief and director of railroad operations, Koskinas is the man in charge. He works closely with Police Chief Dale Call, who before his promotion handled that task.
“This is a public service,” Koskinas says. “We want to help. I meet with commuters at both stations. We’re totally open to suggestions.” The only caveats: “They have to be realistic, and benefit many commuters — not just a few.”
Koskinas offers point-by-point responses to the issues raised in Sunday’s post, and comments added by “06880” readers.
To the original complaint that “the police station is not open on weekends, or hours that a working commuter can use. If you are restricted to paying online, egregious late fees kick in”: There is a 14-day period from the date the ticket is issued to pay it. There is no late charge or fee as long as it is on time.
To the problem of paying for more than one vehicle online: Enter your ticket number, and you can pay it on the days you drive a different car.
To Jonas Shapiro, who wondered how many stickers are held by people who hardly ever use them: People who pay for permits but don’t use them subsidize everyone else who does. We issue more permits than there are spaces. The formula is based on the the number of vacant spaces over time. If permits were issued only on the number of spaces available, the cost per permit would be far higher — and the wait for a permit far longer.
To Tom Prince, who commented on large cars parking in “compact” spaces, the use of “favored” parking, and seemingly able-bodied people parking in handicap spaces: There are no specific spaces marked for “compact” cars. If some are narrower compared to others it is because at some time someone painted a narrow space.
As for “favors”: No one should get to park for free “just because.” But that same officer also finds places for people who are running late or even on time but can’t find a spot, as well as employees who don’t have parking.
Handicap permit misuse is not limited to the train station. Enforcing that means stopping every “healthy” looking person to find out what their handicap is. Cars parking in a handicap spot without a permit receive a $25 ticket.
To Pinya Klotz, who said that parking permits should be available to any resident who pays property taxes on their vehicle, without a wait list and on a first-come, first-serve basis, and who asked for an accounting of the parking fees: Parking is already first-come, first serve for permits and daily spaces. I’m not sure how giving every resident who pays taxes would work in practice when the demand already far outstrips the supply.
The revenue is managed by the Finance Department. The budget is public and goes before the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and RTM every year.
To Michael Smith, who discussed differences in lists between Westport and Weston residents, and long wait times:
The previous system of two lists ended last year (the state has a say in this). Currently the earliest date on the list is January 2010. The delay in issuing permits comes about because we have to give people time to respond. Because contact information changes, we follow up with letters and a phone call. Currently, about 30% of those contacted actually buy a permit. The rest either decline or never respond back. We are always trying to find a better way to get through the list.
To Bart Shuldman, who commented on a $50,000 license plate scanning device: We have a $20,000 license plate reader that identifies parking scofflaws and, when working properly, identifies non-permit vehicles parked in permit- only spaces. That was re-appropriated from a request in the railroad parking budget for a new truck that we did not purchase (we re-purposed an older truck for the custodian to use).
To Nancy Hunter Wilson, who wondered why there is no shuttle bus to the station: There is one. It exists from the Imperial Avenue parking lot to the train station. The average daily vehicle count in that lot for that shuttle is 12-14 cars.
To Nancy Hunter Wilson, who also said that inside tags, rather than outside stickers, could be easily moved from one car to a spouse’s if needed: Anyone needing to drive a temporary vehicle should contact Railroad Parking. Let us know the plate number, and put a note with the permit number in the windshield. This works most of the time, except when something gets lost in communication.
(For more information, or to contact Railroad Parking, click here. Deputy Chief Koskinas is also available at 203-341-6061. He is happy to field any questions, answer any concerns, and try to implement solid suggestions.)
The Westport Police Department’s most recent retiree has helped sniff out narcotics, catch burglars and find missing persons.
She has no idea what she’ll do with herself now. She can’t play golf, read or travel.
Lola is a police dog.
Lola, ready for anything.
She joined the force 11 years ago. A Fairfield family had bought the German shepherd as a pet, but soon realized she was more suited to work. They offered her to the Westport cops, who found her a far better police dog than the one they had.
“She wasn’t a pet. She was very focused,” says Fotios Koskinas, her first handler. (Current police chief Dale Call was also a handler.)
“She’s very achievement-oriented and self-motivated. She loves to accomplish things.”
Among Lola’s many tasks: narcotics detection, tracking criminals and missing persons, evidence recovery, building searches, even protecting officers. (“She’s trained to bite,” notes her most recent handler, Officer Marc Heinmiller.)
Once, she sniffed out 4.7 pounds of marijuana at a motor vehicle stop. She also located a potential suicide victim who had jumped into Fairfield’s Lake Mohegan.
Sometimes, her mere presence was enough to apprehend a perp. “I’ve had drugs handed over to me, and people surrender, just based on her barking,” Heinmiller says. “One guy came running out of the woods as soon as he heard her.”
Lola (with Marc Heinmiller), at work. (Photo/westportct.gov)
For nearly 5 years, Lola went home every night with Koskinas. When he was promoted, Heinmiller spent 3 months getting certified as a handler, then took over.
“She’s definitely a unique dog,” he says. “She knows the difference between criminals and kids — she was always around them with the DARE program — and the difference between work time and home time. She’d protect the squad car and me, but at home we’d play fetch like any other dog.”
With Lola’s retirement, the big challenge now is finding a German shepherd “with the same talent and drive,” Koskinas says. “She’ll be very hard to replace.”
Lola has been retired for just over a week. When Heinmiller heads off to work, she cries. “She’s living the good life,” he says. “But she’s not too happy about it.”
Hopefully, though, “she’ll enjoy being a lazy pet. She’s healthy enough.”
And she’s certainly earned her retirement pay: biscuits and bones.
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