Magazine

Is Abuse of Disabled Persons' Placards a Problem for You?

Two California cities grappled with this problem. The following articles were taken from the California Public Parking Professional, the magazine of the California Public Parking Association. Editor
Sacramento
In 1996, the city of Sacramento started a new enforcement program on misuse of disabled person parking placards. This program was named S.T.O.P. ABUSE (Sacramento Taskforce on Placard Abuse).
S.T.O.P. ABUSE has a Parking Enforcement Officer (PEO) who works in plain clothes and in an unmarked vehicle. The PEO receives citizen complaints or complaints from fellow PEOs. He also generates cases on his own in two different ways. One, he goes out in disguise as a city traffic engineer while wearing an orange vest, a hardhat, a stroll-o-meter and clipboard. While it looks like he is conducting a roadway survey, he is actually recording the disabled person parking placards and license plate numbers on that block. Two, the PEO will conduct an observation on a specific block and record the physical description of the driver who parks a vehicle displaying a DP placard. After the driver walks away, the PEO obtains the placard and vehicle license plate numbers.
Once he has this information, the PEO checks to see if the name of the vehicle's registered owner matches the name on the DP placard. If they don't match or if the date of birth of the placard's registered owner is well beyond retirement age or the age doesn't match the driver who parked the vehicle, then the PEO conducts a further investigation.
That investigation consists of conducting an observation on the area where the vehicle parks regularly. Once the vehicle arrives and parks, the PEO documents the following: a description of the driver, passengers (if any), vehicle, DP placard, the destination of the driver, time, date, and type of parking zone where the vehicle was parked. The PEO maintains the vehicle under observation to determine whether it would be in violation of any city ordinances or state statutes without the DP placard; and whether the driver's description matches the information of the DP placard (e.g., different gender or obvious age difference).
If all of these elements are present, the PEO will conduct this same observation two more times. During the third time, the PEO will make contact with the driver and ask for his or her California driver's license and DP identification. If the license does not match the DP placard information, the driver is issued a misdemeanor citation with a notice to appear. If there are any passengers, the same procedure applies.
The reason three separate observations are conducted is to establish criminal intent. It is a violation to misuse the DP placard once, but the driver would just go to court and claim he or she forgot or it was the first time and it won't happen again. The court would then dismiss the citation or diminish the fine to a point that it would not discourage further violations. The three observations allow for a better conviction rate and a higher penalty. These two factors are what will discourage further abuse. Currently, the fines have started at $261 (or three days in county jail) plus a $10 Department of Motor Vehicles fee plus a $100 restitution fee. The highest penalty received thus far has been seven days in county jail. In addition to these penalties, the violators have received a misdemeanor conviction on their criminal record and a DMV point on their driving record.
Beverly Hills
In 1999, the city of Beverly Hills instituted an enforcement program to monitor the use of disabled person (DP) placards, which were being used for parking privileges. Vehicles are cited in accordance with VC 22511.56 and BHMC 7-3.117, which was enacted pursuant to VC 22511.57. The penalty for both violations is $500.
Before program implementation, the city took steps to gain support for it from both the local community and city officials. Following a public meeting and a public hearing in August 1999, the city issued a press release and distributed 700 notices on vehicles displaying a DP placard. In May 2000, a second set of notices was distributed to 1,000 vehicles when the city discontinued granting parking privileges to DP placards on the dashboard as a result of two cases dismissed in the adjudication process. In both cases, the users admitted to "storing" their spouses' placards on the dashboard, and since VC22511.55 stipulates that parking privileges are granted when the DP placard is properly displayed from the rearview mirror, "use" could not be established from a placard on the dashboard.
Recognizing the public practice of displaying DP placards on the dashboard, the city established a one-time courtesy dismissal program as an educational tool to advise DP placard holders of the display requirements. Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs) were trained to record the DP placard information on the citation and provide a courtesy notice card with the citation that explained both the display requirement and the condition by which the citation could be dismissed.
Surprisingly, additional violations sprung up from these citations when they were contested. During review, it was found that the DP placard on the dashboard had been previously reported as lost/stolen to the Department of Motor Vehicles. By requesting parking privileges using an invalid placard through the review process, the vehicle was then in violation of the city's municipal code prohibiting the unlawful use of an invalid placard. One of these cases was changed from an expired meter violation to a BHMC violation; the hearing examiner's decision was appealed to municipal court and was upheld.
During the first year of the enforcement program, nearly 250 DP placards were confiscated. The number of violations has diminished by approximately 50% each subsequent year due to a combination of public education and fading enthusiasm in enforcement. Initially, many citations were contested. Because this type of enforcement was new and stakes were high, the city responded with individual letters along with a public notice itemizing the relevant DP placard regulations. This level of effort resulted in a positive change. Conclusively, there have been two repeat offenders, but the majority of citations are now being paid, not contested.
This change has been attributed to the experience the Parking Enforcement Officers have gained over time. When a PEO observes a driver associated with a vehicle and DP placard hanging from the rearview mirror, the officer approaches the driver and begins an inspection. Once it is determined that the identification of the driver and the DP placard holder are not the same person, the PEO requests assistance from a colleague. Both officers perform a specific role for successful completion and documentation of each inspection. The second officer not only becomes a witness to the incident, but also provides assistance with the duties, communication with the offender, and supporting documentation of the placard confiscation and associated citation. Both PEOs have a combined responsibility to construct a file documenting the inspection and all interactions in detail, including notice to the DMV to cancel the DP placard.
Once the inspection is completed and the incident is fully documented, the factual evidence presents a compelling case, and there is little doubt that the placard has been misused. Less than 1% of the citations have been
dismissed; all appeals to municipal court have been upheld to date.

Article Abstract from June, 2004




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