Dealing with Violators in Handicapped Parking, Texas-style

Drivers who depend on handicapped parking spaces know how frustrating it can be to circle a parking lot three or four times, waiting for a spot to open up, when one or more vehicles are parked illegally. While flattening tires, leaving nasty messages, and keying cars can offer some relief, there are better ways to handle careless drivers, turning frustration into action while educating the public in the process.

Disabled Parking Volunteer Program
Perhaps the best and most effective action to take against violators in disabled parking is to join a local parking enforcement authority as a volunteer. The City of Houston’s Parking Management Division offers a Disabled Parking Volunteer Program “designed to ensure individuals whose needs require accessible parking spaces have those spaces available.”

The program began with just 10 volunteers, but within a short period of time, the number of enforcers on the street increased to more than 130, including 250 security personnel.  Currently, Houston’s disabled parking volunteer program boasts over 600 volunteers.

Handicapped Parking Violators Pay
After completing a four-hour training session and a background check, volunteers are given two ticket books and released on the streets. Citations start at more than $200 but will increase to over $400 if not paid within a certain period of time.

“We want to send the message that we are serious about the disabled parking in Texas,” said Officer Melvin Bates, an enforcement supervisor for the parking division.  “These aren’t warnings; we go right for the jugular.”

Disabled Parking Violators Fined by Volunteers
Parking enforcement volunteers have proved to be a formidable, effective force in Houston’s ongoing struggle to protect the rights of drivers with disabilities.  The city’s volunteer program was responsible for 23 percent of the more than 9800 citations issued to disabled parking violators in 2005.  That’s 2255 citations written by volunteers in just one year. And that number continues to grow.

Program organizer Roland De La Cerda stated that the Houston Parking Management Division (PMD) takes seriously the responsibility of enforcing parking laws for the disabled.  Consequently, the firm establishment of the legally-mandated department illustrates the City’s commitment to enforce all citizens’ rights to the road, regardless of ability.

The program began in May 1995 when Senate House Bill 2083 granted PMD volunteers the authority to issue parking citations, but only to vehicles parked illegally in handicapped parking spaces.

Handicap Parking Violators Get the Boot
Soon after, the handicapped parking program set out to curb offenders.  De La Cerda said Houston needs the volunteers because of violators who believe that “I’ll just be a second” is a valid excuse for parking where they do not belong.

According to De La Cerda, violators with outstanding fines become “boot-eligible.”   The names of drivers with overdue fines are placed on a list.  If (or when) PMD officers locate a vehicle owned by an offender, the officer proceeds to ‘lock down’ the vehicle, immobilizing it until the driver makes arrangements to pay the outstanding fines.

“We will get them to pay their tickets eventually,” said De La Cerda.  “We have booted all kinds of cars, even Jaguars.  We have even found individuals with outstanding citations that total $10,000.”

Disabled Parking Violators Fund City Coffers
Though the program sounds like a money maker, parking officials heading the training session said no one is getting rich off of the collection of fines.  Revenue gained from parking fines goes into the General Revenue of the City, said De La Cerda.  Regretting such a statement had to be made, the veteran civil servant warned new volunteers against accepting bribes from desperate violators.  Offering a sly smile and a warm chuckle, he added that investigative reporters from local news stations would delight in being the first to break a story about PMD representatives accepting bribes.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s just a piece of candy,” said De La Cerda.  “Don’t accept anything.”

Confronting people can be dangerous. You never know what the other person may be capable of. So unless you are in a position to handle such a situation, it is best to let law enforcement inform the driver of their illegal practice.

To receive more information about the Disabled Parking Volunteer Program in Houston, email volunteer@cityofhouston.net for an application or call 713.853.8275 to receive one by fax or mail.

by Kerry Laird

 

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Katie Larson