Ricky Polcer walks through Tyler retail outlet parking lots with a ticket book in her hand.
She volunteers with the city of Tyler to search out handicap parking violators.
On a recent outing, Ms. Polcer and Tyler police officer James McCraw caught a man illegally parking in a handicap space despite several police cars in the parking lot.
The man pulled away before officers spoke to him, but police snapped a photo of his license plate and issued a citation through the mail.
The violator now faces a $503 fine, which Texas legislators set as the minimum
Members of the Tyler volunteer program, along with Tyler police, have written 7,080 handicap parking citations for a revenue total of $537,809 in the past five years, according to city records.
In Longview, there were 595 citations issued from 2011 to 2013, with fines amounting to $82,721.
The violators are taking up spaces needed for motorists, such as Tyler resident Cindy Grimes.
Grimes, 61, was injured 40 years ago in an accident with a drunken driver. The accident claimed the lives of her mother and her newborn daughter and left her with burns to most of her body, a severed right foot and no toes on her left foot.
The accident happened on the day she left the hospital after giving birth to her daughter.
Mrs. Grimes has a bubbly personality and loves to get out, but she needs to park as close to the door as she can, so she uses handicap parking spots.
“To look at me, you wouldn’t know I am disabled until you see me walk,” she said. “It takes me awhile to get from here to there, but I do not want to sit at home. The handicap parking spaces allows me to do more.”
Mrs. Grimes said she too often finds nondisabled motorists — one time by a Smith County peace officer — using handicapped spots.
“I have actually rolled down my window and asked people if they are handicapped when I see them in the space with no plate or placard,” she said. “One woman said, ‘No,’ and I told her I was. She pulled out and let me have the spot.”
Ms. Polcer said she signed up for the volunteer program to keep spaces available for motorists such as Mrs. Grimes.
“Some days I come out and I write two or more citations, and then other days I won’t see a single violator,” Ms. Polcer said. “You just never know what you’re going to find.
“I do this while I am out running errands. I’m not just coming out looking for violators.”
Ms. Polcer said averages between 20 and 30 citations monthly.
The state law defines a person with a disability as having one or more of the following:
n A visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses.
n Visual acuity of more than 20/200 but with a limited field of vision in which the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle of 20 degrees or less
n Mobility problems that substantially impair a person’s ability to move around. These problems can be caused by: Paralysis, lung disease, cardiac deficiency, wheelchair confinement, arthritis, foot disorder or other medical condition causing a person to use a brace, cane, crutch or other assistive device.
Tyler police officer McCraw said a blue placard is for a person who has a permanent disability. The placard is renewable every four years.
“A person can either have the placard or license plates indicating they are disabled,” McCraw said. “If they don’t have these, then they are in violation.”
According to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, a red placard is for a person who has a temporary disability. The red placard expires within six months.
The DMV also cites that the parking placard or plate is only valid when being used by the person with the disability or someone who is driving the person with the disability.
“It is a violation of state law to use the placard or plates for a handicap parking spot without the person with the disability in the vehicle. People who misuse handicap parking placards are subject to fines of up to $1,250 and/or up to 50 hours of community service,” the DMV site states.
McCraw said there are five volunteers in the disabled parking enforcement program, and they only do enforcement when they are out shopping.
McCraw said the volunteers go through a course to learn what is required for a citation to stand up in court.
“The No. 1 thing is their safety,” he said. “We make sure it is nonconfrontational. We enforce that in our training that we do not want any confrontations between them and the violator.”
The parking space must be clearly marked, and the volunteer must take photos of the windshield, license plate and several photos of the parking space to show the violation.
McCraw also pointed out that the yellow striped area next to a handicap parking spot is an extension of the spot and illegal to park in.
He said the spots with the striped areas are for people needing extra space to get in and out of their vehicle. If someone is parked there, then the disabled person might not be able to get in or out of their vehicles.
“Basically a lot of these vehicles need a little extra room for the person to get around in their wheelchairs or whatever kind of equipment they might need,” he said.
Motorists also face fines if caught altering a placard, such as changing the expiration date.
“We see these placards that have been altered, and if they do that, then it can be a Class C misdemeanor, and that also results in a $500 fine,” McCraw said.
McCraw said the program to crack down on violators has been successful.
“We get a lot of folks come up to us and tell us they are thankful for what we are doing,” McCraw said. “The volunteers also tell us people thank them for enforcing the violations.”
McCraw said the program also puts more eyes into retail areas to thwart burglaries and other crimes.
“It’s a useful tool for many purposes,” he said.