HOUSTON Too many cars, not enough spaces.

It s what makes parking in downtown Houston like a game of musical chairs most drivers are on a quest for cheap public street parking, instead of going to an expensive private lot.

Drivers like Lucy Duran.

Duran: It s so expensive.

I-Team: You don t like to pay?

Duran: It cost an arm a leg no!

On the day we met, Lucy Duran got lucky and found one of the last metered spots on the block. But guess who gobbled up the rest?

Houston police officers who place a police-vehicle placard on their dashboards. But they re not driving city-issued vehicles. These are officers personal cars.

That s not good, said Duran.

In fact, the I-Team found HPD officers using that placard again and again on their personal cars parked everywhere around police headquarters at 1200 Travis.

On a weekday earlier this month, we counted two on Milam, four on Clay Street, and five on Polk. None of the officers paid a dime for parking, including one female undercover officer who arrived at work at 9:30 a.m. and left six hours later at 3:30 p.m.

I-Team: Is that okay for you to just put a placard out and get free parking in your personal vehicle?

The officer didn t have anything to say, and neither did a uniformed officer whose personal car sat for a full eight-hour day.

I-Team: Must be nice, park all day, don t have to pay? Is it fair that you get to park for free and other folks don t, officer?

Lois Holmes was quick to answer that question.

No it s not fair! If I have to pay they should have to pay, Holmes said. I don t pay, I get a ticket.

But turns out many of the cars parked around HPD headquarters could have, and should have been ticketed under city policy. It s a policy the department s top brass has even reminded its officers about twice in recent years, writing: those assigned to work at 1200 Travis and who receive a parking citation... will be responsible for the citation.

But there s just one problem. The I-Team noticed city parking enforcement officers weren t doing any enforcing at all on the day we observed. Instead, they walked right on by cars with police placards.

It doesn t send the right message, said Chris Newport with City of Houston Administration and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees Parking Management.

I-Team: Why wouldn t they write a ticket?

I don t know the specific reasons why they weren t, but they were definitely violating city code and eligible to be cited, I m surprised that they weren t, Newport said.

What would the city tell citizens who are fed up with parking downtown?

They need to know that we know that there s a problem, that we ve got to solve, and we re going to solve it, Newport said.

Turns out, HPD does provide parking spaces for its employees, and even offers a shuttle service to and from remote lots. Those shuttles cost taxpayers more than $400,000 a year to run.

HPD policy states the only time officers can use police placards to park in metered spaces is when they re visiting police headquarters on official business. If an officer is actually assigned downtown and works there, they are prohibited from using the plaque to park their personal car.

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