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Task force takes on disabled parking placard fraud

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Abuse of disabled parking placards is no small problem in Sacramento, where a special task force is charged with tracking down offenders.

To help reduce the misuse of disabled placards, the Sacramento Task Force On Placard Abuse was formed in 1996.

According to Linda Tucker, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, the task force consists of specially trained parking enforcement officers who investigate complaints on disabled placard abuse and issue misdemeanor citations when necessary.

The city employs 50 parking enforcement officers, and two of those are full-time officers who go undercover to investigate the use of disabled parking placards in the city.

Tucker said the task force checks about 1,300 placards per year. So far this year, officers ended up confiscating 130 placards – about 10 or 11 per month.

There were 115 misdemeanor tickets issued during that same timeframe, Tucker said.

Being charged with a misdemeanor requires a court appearance, and the fine can be up to $3,500 or six months in jail, Tucker said.

“We take our enforcement of DP placard use seriously,” Tucker said. “There is a finite number of metered spaced and a lot more placards floating out there.”

According to the California Vehicle Code, getting a placard requires a signed statement by a doctor “substantiating the disability, unless the applicant’s disability is readily observable and uncontested.”

If a placard is lost or stolen, the owner can apply for a substitute placard without recertification of eligibility, according to the California Vehicle Code.

“We have people who steal our placards all the time,” Diana Derodeff, executive director of Inalliance said Wednesday. “People sell them, even.”

Derodeff said that, despite disabled placard abuses, it doesn’t seem to have an impact on the issuance of more placards.

“I’ve never heard of anyone not getting a placard because there’s too much abuse of the system,” Derodess said.

Some people intent on abusing the system find interesting ways to accomplish their goal, according to Officer Hatch, a parking enforcement officer for the city.

In a recent article for The Sacramento Press, writer Casey Kirk said Hatch “recalled one violator cutting the entire bottom portion off of a disabled placard, claiming it was issued to him that way.”

“Another instance that stood out (to Officer Hatch) was the placard-holder who extended his own permit, punching a hole in the current year and taping the punched out circle into the expired year,” Kirk wrote.

Derodeff said Inalliance transports many people with disabilities and when people abuse the disabled parking privilege, there isn’t room for those who need it.

Derodeff said that the biggest problem the Inalliance drivers face is people who park their cars either in handicapped spaces or in the spaces directly adjacent to the handicapped spaces.

Having disabled parking spaces more clearly marked – including all of the loading space needed – would be helpful, Derodeff said.

Derodeff said she thinks people who abuse disabled parking placards should be charged and fined.

City code states that anyone who illegally parks in a blue zone, puts a placard on a car to which it isn’t assigned, uses it without needing it or buys, sells or exchanges a permit is in violation of the law.

The state code has charges for additional violations, including unlawful use of permits or placards, parking unlawfully in a blue zone or blocking access to a disabled space.

“We are unique in that we are one of the few cities in California that charges violators with a misdemeanor for misusing a DP placard,” Tucker said.

Barbara Duncan, the director of communication for Disability Rights California, said reports of placard abuse are disturbing to hear because there are many people with legitimate need for the placards.

Duncan said that people tend to believe there is more fraud than actually exists because the majority of people who use disabled parking placards do not appear at first glance to need them.

“Many of them have invisible disabilities – back problems, heart problems and so forth. It’s not always obvious who is and who isn’t disabled.”

“People with disabilities worked very hard to get this benefit,” Duncan said. “We would like to see an effort to make sure that people who have legitimate needs for these placards can get them.”

According to the DMV, a disabled person with a parking placard is allowed to park for extended periods in on-street metered parking spaces, areas that require resident permits and on-street locations with posted timelimits as well as the regularly designated handicapped parking spots.

There are limitations to parking with a disabled parking placard or license plate, though.

Vehicles with disabled parking placards or plates may not park in the crosshatched pattern located next to a space displaying the wheelchair symbol, or next to red curbs (no stopping, standing or parking), or next to yellow curbs (commercial loading/unloading), or next to white curbs (passenger loading/unloading).

Privileges for free parking with disabled parking placards and license plates only apply to on-street parking, so a driver with a disabled parking placard parking in a public garage has to pay the garage’s set parking rate.

In residential areas, vehicles with disabled parking placards also have to abide by street cleaning restrictions.

Although the parking timeframe is extended for disabled parking, it does have a city-mandated final limit of 72 hours.

“The task force is a full program and a concentrated effort to reduce the abuse,” Tucker said.

Anyone can refer a tip about disabled parking abuse to parking enforcement officers, Tucker said.

“When people want to report something – anything at all, 24 hours a day – they only need to email 311@cityofsacramento.org,” Tucker said, “or, if they are within the city limits, just call 3-1-1. The complaint will make its way to parking and they will followup.”

Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

Editorial Note: Corrections have been made to this story after it was published. The spelling of Diana Derodeff’s name was corrected.

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