Drivers using others’ disability tags to park free

Police write about 100 tickets a year, fining offenders $500 per illegal use of permit.

Kevin Behr

Whatever the reason, be it convenience, laziness or needing to save quarters for laundry, drivers displaying someone else’s disability parking permit or license plates in order to get free parking around campus are breaking the law.

People are using dead people’s permits, stolen permits or a friend’s or family member’s permit to park illegally, said Steve Johnson, University Police deputy chief.

“The sad thing is people who legitimately use disability parking permits and who need to park closer to buildings aren’t able to because of these people,” Johnson said. “They usually do it more than once.”

The University Police try to keep up with the problem by writing tickets for as many offenders as possible, but the number of people parking illegally is just too high for police to nab them all.

University Police Sgt. Jo Anne Benson said if Officer David St. Cyr, who is the main enforcer of the law, could work at it every day, he could potentially write four or five of the $500 tickets per day. The misdemeanor fine is the highest amount that can be written by an officer, Benson said.

He doesn’t get a chance to work on it that often, but Johnson said St. Cyr writes about 100 such tickets every year.

Mary Sienko, marketing manager at University Parking and Transportation Services, said the campus has 88 disability parking spots good for three hours of free parking. Parking Services issues 180 disability contract spots and every parking ramp has a number of designated spaces, she said.

The sheer number of spaces might be what’s drawing people to park illegally. With so many spaces available, enforcement is stretched thin.

Even though somebody might be able to park for free one day, there’s a good chance an officer spotted the illegal act and is monitoring the vehicle.

Benson said St. Cyr usually does a lot of background work before issuing a ticket and has, at times, monitored vehicles for months, watching them park illegally multiple times.

He’ll first find out who owns the vehicle and who was issued the permit. For example, if the vehicle or the permit is registered to someone born in

1930, and then someone gets out of the car who appears to have been born in 1980, an immediate flag goes up, Benson said.

There’s the chance the driver was dropping the disabled person off, or that the 20-year-old has a legitimate disability, however.

“It’s not our job to judge disability,” she said. “If it’s a properly issued permit, we verify it.”

Following verification, if something doesn’t match up, St. Cyr will approach the driver and find out what’s going on, Benson said.

“Excuses run the gamut,” she said.

A lot of times drivers will give excuses explaining where the person is, but St. Cyr already knows where that person is, because he’s probably already called them, Benson said.

“He’ll let them wag their tail and put it in the report,” she said, “but he calls them on it every time.”

Police will write a ticket and confiscate the permit, forcing the person who legitimately needs the permit to go through the process of getting a new one, Benson said.

Because of that, few are caught parking illegally again, she said.

University Police receives tips and complaints from people all the time by phone and e-mail, and usually take a couple days to check them out and write a citation, Benson said.

“We just don’t have enough (parking) spaces for this,” she said. “We would rather have that open for those who need it.”

St. Cyr is on paternity leave for two weeks and could not be reached for comment.