Kwai-Wah Pang says the parking at his store is out of hand. The Valero gas station owner shares a building with a fast food restaurant on NW 39 and Portland and witnesses people illegally parking in the store’s handicapped spaces. Two mornings a week a delivery truck unloads products for the adjoining restaurant. The truck driver illegally blocks the handicapped parking spaces on the building’s north side, Pang said. The truck driver has not been caught in the act by local law enforcement. Later in the day, a DVD kiosk lures people to try their luck and slip into a handicapped spot for convenient access. Renovations at the restaurant have also caused trouble for Pang, with contractors parking in the handicapped area in front of the store, even covering one of the parking spaces with a mound of dirt. "If you’re handicapped, you can’t park here,” said a frustrated Pang, who said customers complain about the illegal parking. It’s an ongoing problem. Over the past two years, Oklahoma City officers issued nearly 12,000 citations for illegal parking in handicapped spaces. Dena Hunt is program coordinator for Oklahoma City’s Handicap Parking Enforcement Specialist program. She oversees a group of 13 parking enforcement officers that fan out across the city, issuing warnings and citations to individuals who illegally park in fire lanes and handicapped spaces. In December, her officers wrote more than 400 tickets, not counting Bricktown and downtown areas that have their own parking enforcement.
Who’s being ticketed?Hunt said her officers often ticket people parking in the spaces without the state-issued handicapped parking placards. In 2008, the Department of Public Safety issued more than 79,000 placards. Over the past three years, more than a quarter million of them were issued by the state. The placards are made to be displayed on a vehicle’s rearview mirror and are issued on a temporary or five-year basis. David Hoss, a civilian parking enforcement officer on the city’s south side, said he often tickets people fraudulently using the handicapped parking placards. Those include college students with a borrowed or stolen placard, as well as people who tamper with or forge the state-issued documents. "You wouldn’t believe how many tickets I’ve written,” Hoss said. "People get smart, figure out how to break the law, and we just can’t catch all of them.”
Why is it a problem?Part of the problem is that it is difficult to match up the person driving the vehicle with the person to whom the placard was issued. Also, many disabled people have a handicapped license plate. It’s hard for officers to know if someone is illegally using the plate. One suggestion that might help tackle the problem, parking enforcement officials say, is to put the individual’s picture on the placard or a barcode similar to a driver’s license on them to be scanned for information.
HOW TO HELP AND GET HELP
MAKING A REPORT Oklahoma City ordinances allow for the enforcement of handicapped parking regulations citywide, even on private property. Also, motorcycles and cars illegally parked in the van-accessible side-striped areas are subject to ticketing or towing.
• To report illegal handicapped parking in Oklahoma City, call the Action Center at 297-2535 or the Handicap Parking Enforcement Specialist program at 316-4050.
• Outside of Oklahoma City, contact a local police department, action center or parking enforcement program. Parking isn’t only barrier
Steven Stokes, director of the Office of Disability Concerns, said that not having accessible parking is but one form of discrimination disabled people meet. "It’s the first barrier that’s encountered in individuals with disabilities,” said Stokes, who is handicapped. "It’s a problem, and it will remain one because the population is growing older and we are living longer with disability.” Stokes said that when people encounter problems they should act by calling their local law enforcement agency.
The Handicap Parking Enforcement Specialist program was started by the Oklahoma City Police Department in 1990. All enforcement specialists are trained civilian officers and the majority of them have handicaps.