ATHENS, Ga. -- It’s one thing not to pay parking tickets, but quite another to remove or steal a wheel-lock that officials slap on cars belonging to scofflaws.
In fact, it’s a felony.
Nevertheless, University of Georgia students remove or steal parking boots at least a couple times each semester, according to UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson.
Instead of paying their accumulated parking fines, students face a charge of interference with government property — a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
And police take parking boot removals and thefts just as serious as any crime, Williamson said.
“We want to make sure that we’re good stewards of equipment that taxpayer dollars pay for,” he said.
“Investigating these incidents is a deterrent, and we hope people will see that if you steal from the government they will be arrested.”
This semester there seems to have been more parking boot problems, according to Williamson, who remembers at least four that were illegally removed or stolen.
Last month, a UGA officer found two female students at the university’s Old Physical Plant off East Campus Road using a hack saw to remove a parking boot from a car.
Sometimes people even steal the wheel locks.
They might replace the locked wheel with a spare tire, and put the booted wheel in the trunk and drive off, Williamson said.
Unlike with a car, a booted scooter can be tossed into the back of a truck or car trunk and taken off campus, making the crime more tempting.
That’s what happened Sept. 13, when a parking boot went missing from the Myers Hall parking lot — along with the motor scooter it was attached to.
UGA Parking Services employees, who are responsible for booting vehicles for unpaid parking fines, had followed procedure by taking down the scooter’s information and photographing it with the parking boot on, Williamson said.
That information helped officers track down Tyler Ingram, a 22-year-old student who claimed his scooter had been stolen, Williamson said.
But investigators had their suspicions, and after they subpoenaed phone records and gathered other information, they had enough evidence to get a judge to sign search warrants for Ingram’s home on Crescendo Drive, as well as the home of a neighbor, 20-year-old Chad Griffeth.
Officers didn’t find the stolen parking boot, but discovered cocaine, marijuana, drug paraphernalia and a handgun, police said.
Ingram was booked into the Clarke County Jail on Wednesday night on charges of interference with government property, theft by taking, false report of a crime, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug objects.
Griffeth also checked into jail that night on charges of interference with government property, theft by taking, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime, false report of a crime, making false statements, possession of marijuana and possession of drug objects.
Another of Ingram’s friends — Benjamin Wayne Phillips, 22 — was charged with interference with government property, theft by taking and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
All three men have since bonded out of jail.