Rain, sleet, snow, ice, hot weather and cold weather are tough things to deal with when you’re out on the streets of Great Neck Plaza but dealing with an angry motorist who you’ve just given a ticket to might be the hardest thing of all, according to Christopher Backmon, the Plaza’s Code Enforcement Supervisor since 2012.
“I have to keep a calm demeanor,” said Backmon, who came to the Plaza as a Code Enforcement Officer in 2005, and now supervises three full time officers and a fourth part timer. “On some very rare occasions someone’s really out of control, and for the most part, our officers are out there by themselves. Sometimes, though, you have to call for back up.”
“One thing about our job is that no one likes to receive a ticket,” he continued. “We’re automatically the object of hatred so when we go out there we have to figure out how to give people courtesy and respect as much as we can. I understand that they don’t hate us personally. So we try to be as nice as possible. We try to be polite as we can.”
“But no two days are alike. Inclement days make it a little harder to go out in snow or rain and issue summonses.”
Backmon teaches his philosophy of respect to the rest of his staff. Each officer is equipped with a handheld scanning device that not only issues parking violations but can issue summonses for over 60 different infringements of the village code such as violations concerning sidewalks, pets and noise.
The tickets are printed on thermal paper that is weather resistant and, coincidentally, difficult to tear or rip. That’s caused great frustration for more than a few who have been on the receiving end of a summons. Backmon says that he’s seen a lot of people trying to unsuccessfully rip up their tickets.
“I want to laugh but I have to keep a straight face,” he admits. “Once someone actually balled up a ticket and threw it at me and left it on the ground and I actually issued him another ticket for littering.”
One of Backmon’s staff, Dauberthini Beraud, who knows Backmon since they went to elementary school in Queens together, recalled issuing a $20.00 ticket for overtime parking to Plaza Mayor Jean Celender.
What was her reaction? “She said ‘You’re just doing your job,’” Beraud answered. “And she paid the $20.00.”
Backmon remembers a more serious incident in the Plaza when he was still an officer. “A few years ago I noticed a vehicle was running unattended inside one of the parking lots. I checked out the car and noticed that there was a child in a car seat who was about two years old. It was about 11 in the morning.
“The mother actually came into town to go for a job interview so she left her child in a running car that was locked. I guess she had it running because it was a hot day so she could leave the air conditioning on. I waited a little bit by the car and I notified Nassau County. They were able to come in and open the car and while they were doing that, the mother returned to the car.”
Backmon is proud of the job that Beraud and fellow officers Ronald Ryan, Dwight Nembhard and part timer Jeffrey Benaim are doing. He feels that his emphasis on courtesy, respect and having a calm demeanor have paid off. They’re basically on patrol on a staggered shift from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“I think we’ve created such a nice environment here as opposed to what I’ve heard in the past,” he added. “I wish I had the numbers, but prior to my coming here there were a number of complaints against officers. It’s not that the officers were always the bad guys, but just the number of complaints about officer conduct now are much less.”
Plaza Code Enforcement is an important key to the village’s vitality in Backmon’s opinion. “We try to keep the flow of traffic moving,” he said. “In the downtown we have the train station and we have a lot of different merchants and restaurants and we try to make enough parking for shoppers to come. If no one is out there, it becomes a giant parking lot.”