Reserved for a reason: Police enforce handicapped parking rules

Published: Friday, Jan. 17, 2014 11:50 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 8:24 a.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Handicapped parking can be seen at Meijer in St. Charles. From 2011 to late 2013, the St. Charles Police Department issued 213 tickets for illegal parking in a handicapped space, of which 77 were voided.

As police chief of a village with limited commercial property – and therefore few handicapped parking spaces – Dan Hoffman rarely sees those designated areas in Campton Hills abused.

Should an unauthorized vehicle park in a handicapped spot, he said, his officers likely would take a zero-tolerance stance.

"That's one pet peeve that every officer holds dear," Hoffman said.

That's because police want to help those who need help, and people who have handicapped placards physically need help, he said.

"You don't just get a disability placard by going to the local store," Hoffman said.

Those obtaining a placard or disability license plates will require certification from a licensed physician, physician assistant or advanced practice nurse that the applicant has at least one of six qualifying medical conditions, according to the Illinois Secretary of State's Office.

Those include certain cardiac conditions, the use of portable oxygen and the inability to walk unassisted. Those severely limited in their ability to walk because of an arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition also qualify.

"The Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities is vital to many Illinois residents with disabilities to help them maintain their independence and stay active," Secretary of State Jesse White said in a brochure about the program.

On Jan. 1, the fine for drivers misusing disability placards increased from $500 to $600. The fine for physicians falsifying disability applications also increased, from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,000 for a second.

White said in a written statement that the higher fines are meant to discourage misuse and abuse of the program.

"Our goal is to ensure that disability parking spaces are available for those who truly need that access to conduct their day-to-day activities," White said. "My message is simple: If you don't belong there, don't park there."

Parking in a handicapped space without a disability license plate or placard can cost motorists at least $250.

Locally, drivers have been ticketed in such locations as the 400 block of East Railroad Street in Elburn; the 0-100 block of North Dugan Road in Sugar Grove; and the 100 block of North Fifth Street, the 100 block of First Street and the 800 block of South Randall Road in St. Charles.

In St. Charles, the community service officer conducts parking enforcement and monitors handicapped spaces on public streets and public parking lots, said Erik Mahan, commander of traffic and special events for the St. Charles Police Department.

During busier times, such as holidays, some officers will check for violations at shopping centers, Mahan said. He noted citizens also call the police department to report violations, including those on private property.

"We're always looking for voluntary compliance," St. Charles Interim Police Chief Steve Huffman said, adding handicapped spaces are marked for a reason. "They need that type of access."

From 2011 to late 2013, the St. Charles Police Department issued 213 tickets, of which 77 were voided.

Huffman said the police department will void tickets for those who forgot to display their placard. The Geneva Police Department follows the same practice, Cmdr. Eric Passarelli said in an email.

"There are many times that an officer will observe a vehicle parked in a handicapped spot and not be able to locate the appropriate handicapped placard," he said. "The officer will then issue the parking ticket. Later, the motorist will arrive at our [police department] and show that they have a valid placard that they failed to display or [it] had fallen, etc., and the ticket will be made a warning. This happens very frequently."

Of the 359 tickets Geneva police issued from 2011 to late 2013 for handicapped parking violations, 297 were switched to warnings.

Fewer people were ticketed in Elburn and Sugar Grove. The Elburn Police Department issued 15 tickets from 2011 to 2013, and the Sugar Grove Police Department issued three during the same period.

Lt. Pat Gengler, spokesperson for the Kane County Sheriff's Office, reported a similar situation to Campton Hills'. It issued no tickets, he said.

"We are mostly unincorporated and don't have many, if any, parking lots that have handicapped parking spots," Gengler wrote in an email. "And we don't have staff to patrol incorporated parking lots."

The Batavia Police Department did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act request before deadline. A phone call seeking comment also was not returned by deadline.

Fast facts

According to the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, these are the penalties for misusing the handicapped parking program:

• The minimum fine for parking in a handicapped space without a disability placard or license plate is $250. Municipalities may increase the fine to $350.

• Unauthorized use of disability plates or parking placards can result in a $600 fine and driver's license suspension for a first offense.

• The fine for physicians who knowingly falsify a disability application is $1,000 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for the second.

• The following crimes can result in a Class A misdemeanor charge for the first offense, a fine of up to $2,500 and a one-year driver's license suspension: using a dead person's disability license plate or placard; altering a placard; possessing a fake, fraudulent, lost or stolen placard; duplicating or manufacturing a placard; and selling or distributing a fraudulent placard. A second offense could result in a Class 4 felony charge.

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