In retrospect, her son gently suggested afterward, had she paid the parking ticket instead of using it as a bookmark, things might have turned out differently.

But this woman, a recent victim – or recipient or perhaps customer – of the Barnacle Enforcement System via the City of Evanston, kept track of her reading and later shared her story with the RoundTable. She said the experience was “unnerving,” but “the police officers were very nice.”

She had offered a colleague a ride home after a routine day at work, and when the two reached her car, they found it had been “Barnacled.”

The Barnacle is a mechanism, like the Denver Boot, to immobilize cars whose owner seems to have unpaid parking tickets. It is a bright yellow piece of equipment that nearly covers a front windshield, sticking to it with, according to the website, “1,000 pounds of force.”

Lest the driver not get the idea that this is the implementation of a City policy, the parking enforcement officer tapes a sign or flyer to the car’s driver-side window that says in part, “City of Evanston Immobilization Notice.” The sign also warns that, should the driver attempt to remove the Barnacle without paying or to drive away, an alarm will sound.

The Barnacle website describes the mechanism as “better for the operator,” contrasting the ease of unfolding a device onto a windshield with stooping or even lying down to attach a boot.

The website also touts the mechanism as “better for the motorist,” because “motorists can pay online or over the phone to release the Barnacle and quickly remobilize their vehicle.”

All the driver has to do to remove the Barnacle is pay the $125 immobilization/remobilization fine, plus the amount of the unpaid parking tickets, including penalties – even if the driver plans to appeal them – plus a $200 deposit by calling the phone number on the Barnacle and giving the person on the other line a valid credit card number. If this is not done within 24 hours, warns the sign affixed to the Barnacled car, the car will be towed and additional charges will accrue.

Drivers who have an emergency,  who have small children with them, who do not have a cell phone handy, who may have discovered the Barnacle after City offices have closed or do not have sufficient funds on a credit card, however, may not find comfort in those words, the woman said.

Once the driver has given the credit card information, the person on the other end of the line will give a code to be entered on a keypad on the Barnacle, allowing the device to be removed. The driver must then return the equipment to the Evanston Police Department – which she did.

The Police Department, 1454 Elmwood Ave., is merely the drop-off point for the Barnacle. Police officers cannot remove or assist with removing the Barnacle. They will safely store the Barnacle delivered by the driver, to prevent loss or damage so that the $200 deposit can be returned to the driver.

A Barnacled driver who has difficulty getting the device off the car can call the Police Department or indicate through the automated system, the number for which is listed on the flyer/sign taped to the car window, and a Parking Enforcement Officer will come out to assist, if the call comes during business hours.

Under Section 11-2-11 of the City Code, the City will notify the registered owner by mail that they have three unpaid tickets that must be paid within 21 days or one or more of their vehicles will be subject to immobilization. The registered owner may “challenge the validity of the notice by requesting a hearing within 21days of the date of the notice and appearing in person to submit evidence which would disprove liability,” the Code states.

Susan Brunner, the Chief Hearing Officer for the City, said, “The City sends a Notice of Intent to Immobilize after at least three tickets have gone through the process to final judgment and remain unpaid. The Notice gives a 21-day due date to pay the fines. The Notice is sent to the registered address on file at the time the notice is sent, not when the car was registered,” said Ms. Brunner.

Many of the administrative hearings on unpaid parking tickets are default judgments, sometimes because people did not read their mail, sometimes because the owner has moved but failed to notify the Secretary of State of the new address and sometimes because people do not wish to show up at the hearing.

Other reasons for default, Ms. Brunner said, are “unpaid judgments that came after a person contested the ticket. There can also be unpaid default judgments because a person failed to appear for a default hearing. The City sends a written notice of that upcoming default hearing and also sends a notice of the default judgment. All notices are sent to the registered address.”

When people move to a new place, they often change their driver’s licenses but not their license plates and do not notify the Secretary of State of their new address, Ms. Brunner said. “People need to read their mail,” she said, and to register their new addresses.

“I can understand that people may not want to come to court, but they need to understand that doing so can help them.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...