Is chalking a parked car an unconstitutional search? A federal appeals court said yes in a case Utah cities are watching.

Tire chalk, a common tool in municipal parking enforcement, was recently declared unconstitutional by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals, with judges equating the practice to a warrantless search of private property.

The ruling — stemming from a lawsuit against Saginaw, Mich. — does not apply to Utah, but representatives for cities in the Beehive State say they’re keeping an eye on the nascent, anti-chalking precedent.

“City attorneys are looking at it,” said Matthew Rojas, Salt Lake City spokesman.

Utah’s capital no longer marks vehicles as part of its parking enforcement, Rojas said, instead relying on license plate scanners to determine if cars have overstayed their welcome.

Even if Utah were subject to the 6th Circuit ruling, Rojas said, it would not appear to affect the city’s technology.

“The attorneys don’t see in the decision that it prohibits electronic chalking,” he said.

But West Valley City does incorporate tire chalk in its parking enforcement, which West Valley Police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku said is allowed under Utah law.

“It’s certainly something we’re keeping an eye on,” she said of the Michigan case. “At this time, old-school chalking is what is happening.”

Vainuku said the city created a two-person, proactive parking enforcement team roughly four months ago. Before then, parking violations were addressed on an as-needed basis by the city’s police officers.

Even with the new enforcement team, she noted that West Valley City’s restricted parking areas are comparably fewer than in Salt Lake City, with less need for the type of enforcement that relies on tire markings.

“The majority of what they’ve been doing is handling complaints at this point,” Vainuku said. “This is brand new for us.”

In Holladay, code enforcement officer Doug Brewer said he doesn’t use chalk when he does parking enforcement, noting that the area he’d patrol is small enough that he’s able to tell if a car has broken any rules.

In its ruling, the 6th Circuit noted that Saginaw’s use of tire chalk was intended to raise revenue for the city, rather than protect the public against safety risk. And that distinction, the court said, fails to justify the use of a warrantless search, according to Associated Press reports.

"The city does not demonstrate, in law or logic, that the need to deter drivers from exceeding the time permitted for parking — before they have even done so — is sufficient to justify a warrantless search under the community caretaker rationale,” the court said.

Tribune reporter Taylor Stevens contributed to this report.