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The standard workaday crowd mills about 1 Judiciary Square on a February morning as a sleek blue Crown Victoria pulls up to the curb by the front door. No one pauses to gawk or salute as Mayor Marion Barry slides out of the back seat and heads to his office. No one, that is, except Fred Watkins. Taking his position at the front end of the car, Watkins stands erect, shoulders back, chest out. As Barry passes by, Watkins nods to him silently.
There are few things Hizzoner can count on these days. Many of his supporters have deserted him, his vaunted security retinue seems to shrink every day, and he doesn’t have much power. But every time Barry’s convoy sidles up to the District’s house of government, he knows that his parking spaces will be wide open. That’s because Watkins is there to guard themeight hours a day, 40 hours a week.
Watkins blows twice on his whistle to catch the attention of a woman in a chartreuse suit quick-stepping her way into 1 Judiciary Square. She has just left her white Toyota Camry parked in one of the spots reserved for D.C. councilmembers, another chunk of Watkins’ domain. “Excuse me,” Watkins calls after her. “You can’t park there.”
Ruling over a handful of reserved parking spaces seems like a classic D.C. government sinecure, but it’s not. Although signs mark the reserved spaces, they don’t keep the city’s motorists from sliding into the most sacred spots. “Anyone who sees an opening will go into it,” Watkins says, explaining that he can’t duck inside for more than a minute before all hell breaks loose outside. “Everyone thinks it’s free parking. I can go in right now and come back in 15 minutes, and all the places will be filled up. They’d park on the sidewalk if they could.”
As long as Watkins is on duty, they won’t make it to the curb, much less the sidewalk. An employee of D.C. Protective Services, a security outfit funded by D.C. tax dollars, Watkins is decked out in a black uniform with red patchesjust the sort of faux-law enforcement insignia that makes parking scofflaws heel. Watkins tried to become a real cop in the 1970s but was thwarted by the Metropolitan Police Department’s weight requirements. He weighed 222 pounds at the time of his testing, well over the 185-pound maximum for his 5-11 height. So he joined D.C. Protective Services in 1977 and has been guarding government parking spaces for the past few years. “I figure someone has to do the job,” he shrugs. “It might as well be me.”
Watkins is just being humble. Regulars at 1 Judiciary Square worship Watkins for his good nature and his ability to shoo away illegal parkers with panache.
When a guy in a mint-green Grand Am with an “I Love Jesus” window ornament tries to occupy a space reserved for the council, Watkins spots him immediately. “Hi, how ya doin’?” he says to the driver. The driver makes some excuses, and Watkins just nods, a wide smile spread across his face. “I would love to let you sit here,” he says without a trace of irony, “but the key word on that sign is ‘Reserved.’ That means it’s reserved for someone other than you.”
When the councilmembers drive up, he greets them all with respect, shaking hands and using formal titles. He helps Councilmember Hilda Mason unload shopping bags from her trunk while she blows a kiss at a passing cabdriver.
“I would just surmise they’re content,”
Kenneth Burnett says of the mayor and other government workers whose parking spots Watkins protects. “They don’t have to wait for a parking spot, or they don’t have to have the car moved,” he adds. Burnett is the administrator for buildings management with the Department of Administration Services, which oversees D.C. Protective Services. The city shells out $1.6 million each year for the services, Burnett says, adding that each officer pulls down a yearly salary of $23,000
And the money is well spent, Burnett argues, pointing out that Watkins walks his beat to help people, not hassle them. “It’s better for the citizens,” he says. “This way they don’t have to get ticketed or get frustrated if their car is moved.”
Sure, but they also have a much harder time scamming a choice parking spot. “You know what happened the other day?” asks Watkins. “A young girl came up and double-parked, and I told her she had to move. She said she was Ms. Barry’s daughter.” He laughs. “Everybody’s got a story out here for you. Makes no difference to me. I don’t do any favors for anyone.” CP