U police work to stop misuse of handicap parking permits

Amy Hackbarth

Three years ago, University police Officer Dave St. Cyr saw a healthy-looking student parking a car with a handicap parking permit.

Doubting the student’s permit was legal, St. Cyr tracked down the original owner of the permit – a deceased woman born in 1918.

“I ended up towing the vehicle, and later I found out the permit was being passed around a sorority,” he said.

St. Cyr’s indignation at the incident inspired a campaign against the misuse of handicap parking permits, a crime he said continues today.

In the past three weeks, more than 10 people on campus have been issued citations for permit misuse, a misdemeanor punishable with a $700 fine. St. Cyr said he has issued more than 300 citations over the past three years.

“Everyone wants to park for free all day long,” he said.

According to state law, cars with handicap permits or licenses can park at a metered space without paying.

There are 308 metered parking spaces at the University, said Lori Ann Vicich, Parking and Transportation Services communications manager. In addition, she said, there are 318 permanent handicap parking spaces.

Those spaces create many opportunities for people to misuse handicap permits for better parking at the University, St. Cyr said.

In a reported incident May 20, a Fairview-University Medical Center respiratory therapist used her dead grandmother’s handicap permit to park because she was late for work.

On the same day, a 24-year-old man using his grandmother’s car told St. Cyr he thought he could use handicap parking because his grandmother had a permit, according to the report.

Only the person who owns the permit can use it to park, St. Cyr said.

“And if they know about someone else using their permits, they can end up losing them,” said University Police Capt. Steve Johnson.

Approximately two-thirds of the people who misuse parking permits get them from relatives, St. Cyr said. The rest of the passes are stolen.

Familiarity with legitimate cars and permits on campus helps St. Cyr find misused permits, he said.

“I know most of the students and faculty who have permits at the University,” he said.

When St. Cyr finds a car he doesn’t know, he begins a process to determine whether the permit is used legally.

“I look at where the car is parked – is it far away from a building?” he said. “And I look to see what’s in the car.”

If he’s still suspicious, St. Cyr asks the police dispatcher to search a database of handicap parking information. He said he tries to contact the permit’s owner. He also checks the vehicle registration and the Student-Staff Directory before issuing a citation.

The process can be complicated, St. Cyr said, but sometimes his sixth sense helps.

“A lot of it is just gut instinct,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so long I can just tell who has a legal permit and who doesn’t.”