ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – When Arvada hired two parking enforcers late last year they were stunned to find how many able-bodied drivers were monopolizing handicap parking spaces, and how many other drivers were forging and altering handicap parking placards so they could park closer to stores and businesses.
“I think for Arvada we found out it is a problem,” said Arvada Police Commander Kathy Foos. “And it’s disappointing when you see people taking advantage when they shouldn’t be.”
Since September 2013, Arvada’s new parking patrollers have handed out 264 citations for illegal parking in handicap spaces and they’ve given out another 513 warnings. Last November they gave out 107 citations for illegal parking in a handicap space. That works out to about five such citations for every business day in the month.
For the same four month time period, Lakewood police ticketed 142 drivers for improperly parking in a handicap spot and the City of Westminster issued nine citations for handicap parking.
“We were very surprised, I would never have guessed the situation to be what it was,” said RJ Everett, one of the two Arvada parking agents who began handing out citations last September.
Up until then, Arvada had never had dedicated parking agents. Everett patrols streets and parking lots and if he spots a scofflaw using a handicap space he issues a $350 ticket for a first offense. A second offense is a $700 citation.
Everett says since the enforcement program began they have confiscated between 30 to 40 handicap placards that had been forged, usually with the driver trying to alter the date so it can be used longer than intended. In some cases, they have confiscated placards that had been given to disabled men and women who died years ago, but were being used by other, unauthorized drivers.
In January of this year, seven drivers were cited for having altered handicap placards. Four were found guilty.
“It amazes me,” said Everett.
He said some of the drivers using forged or altered placards have been embarrassed, but others have berated the parking enforcers, saying they should be chasing bigger criminals.
“We see a lot of people who need that spot but can’t because someone else is using it,” said Everett.
Foos said the program is about obtaining compliance, not revenue. But she said in just four months the city issued nearly $100,000 in handicap parking tickets.
“It’s just about respecting human beings in general. Those spaces are there for people so their lives are more convenient, not for able-bodied people’s convenience,” Foos said.
At a King Soopers parking lot in Arvada, CBS4 spotted a woman who drove in alone, parked in a handicap space, and then ran into the store for just a few minutes. She did not have a handicap placard in her car or a handicap plate on her vehicle.
“My mom is inside,” said the woman when she returned alone to her car. “She has epilepsy.”
The woman claimed she had a handicap placard that was not with her, but then declined to answer any more questions and drove away, apparently leaving her mother inside the grocery store.
“It’s bad,” said Harry Sailor, a shopper who has leg and foot problems and does have a handicap placard.
Sailor said if a handicap space is taken illegally by an able bodied driver it can mean he has to walk an extra 400 to 500 feet.
“It’s the right thing for these to be open for people who need them,” said Sailor.
The crackdown appears to be working as the parking enforcers handed out just 17 citations for illegally parking in a disabled spot in January, and 12 in February.