HOA vs. Police: Move It or Move On!

By: - August 31, 2019

Once in a while the same storyline crops up, but in a different jurisdiction: An HOA board admonishing a local law enforcement officer that his/her take-home police cruiser can not be parked in his/her residential driveway. The violation must be corrected by moving the police car, despite neighbors ordinarily adoring this sense of security (which they also happen to pay for in the form of tax dollars), or pay steep fines. Or even placing a lien on the home. Yes, such stark stories about the teeth of a HOA are real.

In my neck of the woods, a Clearwater, Florida police officer is in such an entanglement.

Early in my cop career working the midnight-shift beat, a squad-mate whose take-home police cruiser was parked in his driveway was met with scornful violation letters pertaining to his iconic, community-securing police cruiser occupying his driveway. He received a warning letter from his HOA governors, directing him to garage the fully-marked law-and-order icon or relocate it elsewhere…or else. That same warning letter included the fines schedule if compliance was not heeded by a certain date.

Exercising diplomacy, he chose to engage the HOA in dialogue, to understand the nuances —did someone, a neighbor, actually complain?— to no avail. He was simply told it (parking “commercial” vehicles) was against HOA covenants and that it must go. So this young cop conducted a deep exploration on the matter, including writing the then-attorney general of Florida, seeking legal clarification on the issue with which he was contending.

The Florida AG replied with a letter containing statutory language covering the unique circumstance regarding “commercial vehicles” parked in residential subdivisions—indeed, HOAs have the right to exclude commercial vehicles from private property within their sphere of oversight/management. However, Florida state statute 320.01 (25) exempts “public safety vehicles” such as police cars. This cop shared his search results with the HOA board. Didn’t matter: they wanted the cop car moved, citing and standing by their bylaws. A conundrum. After distilling the time and legal expenses to litigate for his principles and lawful allowance, he decided to sell his home and relocate to “a more cop-friendly HOA community” or possibly “an HOA-less one,” as he framed it back then (2005-ish).

Residing in an HOA-governed subdivision, I never had such a contention (when I was still on the job). But my colleague endured well enough, having neither a domestic partner nor children at the time thus making his move relatively easy. A one-man operation is easier to uproot than a village and all its tidbits and encumbrances. My relocated colleague was welcomed in a different community, one which embraced having a law enforcement officer in the family, so to speak; the mobile alarm system parked in the driveway and viewable to the public (including bad guys looking to take what’s not theirs) was viewed as a bonus.

I suspect the Clearwater police officer (whose husband is also a cop) will contest the issue, deferring to that specific state statute we referred to earlier. The Clearwater cop’s family friend who also happens to be a Tampa Bay-based attorney, Dan Parri spoke with WFTS-TV, offering, “Every place that I’ve ever lived, if I had a police cruiser parked next to me I felt safer.” Mr. Parri noted how take-home cop cars deter crime as well as enable swift response by police officers.

Time and Place

I’ve had countless times whereby I ran code (lights/sirens) from my driveway, negating roll call in lieu of a “hot call” requiring immediacy. A fully prepared police officer’s direct response to a major call edits all the things which traditionally required attention before take-home cars were a thing: physically reporting for duty; vehicle safety inspection in the HQ parking lot; daily duty-day loading of a massive array of equipment; checking the clip-boarded “hot sheets” for stolen cars and other important items to be aware of (nowadays, this is done via in-car laptops checked while…ahem…parked in the officer’s driveway).

It’s all a progressive design/benefit for the public, not necessarily a convenience for the cop (although ease is a byproduct).

Speaking to the local media, Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter didn’t curb his feelings about his officers parking their city-owned cop cars in homestead driveways. “The actions of this association to changing the rules is disappointing to say the least. If you are going to change the rules on them, it seems logical to provide a grandfather clause that the association will honor. Not a grandfather clause they changed their mind on honoring,” Chief Slaughter wrote.

“The community has demanded officers be dedicated community servants and respond, day or night, to emergencies. This officer and her spouse have served [their] community admirably. When Irma hit our community, they put their kids on a plane to relatives because they both had to work during the storm recovery,” Chief Slaughter iterated. He makes a valid and oft-cited point: the vast majority of folks desire seeing more police in their communities. Take-home cruisers fill that wish.

Officer.com covered this story also, reporting, “While Florida State law says HOAs can prohibit commercial vehicles from parking in driveways, [according to] an opinion issued in 2005, by then-State Attorney Charlie Crist, a law enforcement vehicle is not considered commercial.” I do believe the colleague I referenced earlier is part and parcel the impetus for that decision by Mr. Crist in 2005 (letter’s language depicted in the brief video above).

Beside state law supporting the police practice, what is the harm in marked public safety vehicles being parked in residential enclaves? Yes, the neighbor’s marked electrician truck next door is subject to the HOA rules which, in general, may seem unfair to the electrician. But that electrician truck is not likely going to be needed exigently and thus is not exempted per state statute, so following the law is understood…or should be. Realistically, If he can why can’t I arguments were meted out by the state legislature scribing rules and certain exceptions therein, distinguishing between commercial and certain governmental (read: police, fire marshal) autos.

At the Ready

The basic premise for police take-home cars is to be efficiently prepared to expediently respond to situations warranting cops, including specially-trained ones such as SWAT, Bomb Squad, Canine, Dive Team, and all manner of specialties among law enforcers (life-savers). With gear already on board, all that remains is the Get in and go! Precious seconds, right?

That same police presence may engender dealing with the unending phalanx of car thieves breaking into automobiles in residential plots all across America. Logically, a marked police cruiser is one of the greatest deterrents to car-burglarizing cretins. But not if an HOA has its way.

As of this writing, we have Hurricane Dorian headed straight toward Florida, Our last hit in the Tampa Bay area occurred on September 11, 2017. After Hurricane Irma passed through, trees, fences and debris littered all of my subdivision. Being essential public servants, all cops and firefighters residing in my community were out saving folks from life-threatening hazards, only to eventually come home and pick up their own pieces of destruction left by the massive bites of a non-discriminating hungry hurricane. One of my neighbors, a county deputy, strolled up, parked his marked cruiser in his driveway, entered his garage, and minutes later carried his evidently fatigued figure across the street…armed with his chainsaw. He nodded to me then silently went to “chunking” pieces of my front lawn tree which Mother Nature yanked, carried, then dropped across my driveway.

Who wouldn’t want a public safety official in the community? Welp, go read the Comments section under the YouTube video posted above: the vast majority side with the HOA in opposition to “marked” cop cars parked in residential driveways in their communities. Most seem anti-cop sorts, some claiming that cops make lotsa money by writing traffic tickets. Wrong! Some critics of the cops said this HOA/parking situation exemplifies police thinking they are above the law. Nope! Florida Legislature exempted cops in this particular regard.

Conversely, this story posted on some law enforcement forums resulted in full favor of police car presence in residential areas and offerings of how to circumvent HOA brouhaha, such as parking cruisers on “public” streets and/or ultimately saying goodbye to all HOA-governed subdivisions (like my colleague did). Referring to living under the scope of HOAs, the word “dictatorship” came up several times.

And the beat/debate (ultimatum) goes on…

What’s your opinion on this seemingly sore subject?