Charlotte lets disabled volunteers nab able-bodied scofflaw parkers

More than 250 warnings written in the first two months of program

January 21, 2001|By Diane Suchetka | Diane Suchetka,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Robert Kimrey can't walk without his crutches, can't get too far without the electric scooter he uses as a wheelchair. And that makes him perfect for his new job.

Kimrey is one of 25 volunteers helping Charlotte-Mecklenburg police nab able-bodied scofflaws who steal parking spaces from the handicapped. Half the volunteers, like Kimrey, are disabled.

It's a newly resurrected program, one that faded away over the years, then started again in November. And it's been such a help - more than 250 warnings written in the first two months of the program - police are looking for 25 more volunteers to train in March.

"We're tired of perfectly healthy citizens parking illegally in handicapped parking spaces," said Deputy Chief Glen Mowrey. "This program helps us crack down on these violators and keep the spaces available for those who truly need them."

It also allows police to concentrate on more serious crimes, says Officer Will Farrell, volunteer coordinator for the department.

Volunteers started out just writing warnings, while the police department works out kinks in the program. But they'll be writing official citations, with fines of up to $250, by spring.

Similar programs exist in other Carolinas cities, such as Gastonia. Others, including Rock Hill, are considering the idea.

"It's a great idea, having individuals who are concerned about the issue being in charge of monitoring it," says Linda Linfors with Programs for Accessible Living, a Charlotte organization that helps people with disabilities help themselves.

"People who are frustrated about people doing something illegal get to do something about it, in an appropriate and responsible way. It's a win-win situation."

Parking enforcement is one of several ways volunteers can help the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Other volunteers care for dogs at the Animal Control Bureau, answer phones, file, develop pictures for the crime lab or serve as couriers delivering mail from station to station.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and have no felony or violent misdemeanor convictions. A drug test and background check are required.

Those who work in parking enforcement must go through eight hours of training. And then they go to work.

Kimrey, 43, puts in his required 16 hours a month while out running errands. Keeping his reflective vest and police ID in the car means he can work almost anytime. Before an eye doctor's appointment, he spent an hour scouring the busy parking lot at Cotswold Village Shops, searching for cars in handicapped spots without the license plates or placards that give them the right to be there. He didn't find one violator.

"On average," Kimrey says, "people are pretty good. They do try to follow the rules. "And I'm just like you," says the former airline pilot who can't walk without help because his back was fractured, twice, in separate car accidents.

"I'm an individual who has concerns trying to make it better for everybody else. It's just my way of giving back to the community."

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