Despite what numerous drivers running errands on Saturday afternoon seemed to believe, a handicapped parking permit is not a family pass for choice parking.
At the Glen Burnie Wal-Mart, Cpl. Eric Trumbauer snagged two such drivers at once. One woman, teary-eyed and apologetic, said she used her husband's handicapped placard because she was only running in to get dog food. The other, 31-year-old Trina Mendez, was less remorseful.
"There's nowhere to [expletive] park," Mendez said, her painted toenails resting in the window as Trumbauer wrote a $140 citation.
Lavona Arnold could only shake her head at the situation. Arnold is 70,and, as she puts it, has "two bad knees and two bad feet." She leaned on a shopping cart, her cane hooked inside, and walked by the cars.
"I had to park all the way down there," she said. "You think that's not disgusting? By the time I walk from there up to here, I'm ready to turn around and go back. They think they can get away with it. [They say,] 'My grandmother has a handicap. I'm going to use it. They won't catch me.'"
Anne Arundel County police have been cracking down on such violations as part of an initiative called Operation HIDE, or Handicap ID Enforcement. Cpl. Nicholas DiPietro, a 15-year veteran and the traffic enforcement coordinator for the county's Northern Police District, has heard every excuse in the book.
Violators are as young as 16, or as old as the 83-year-old woman using her dead mother's handicapped tag. One woman recently stuffed a stolen handicapped placard into her bra and ran away, with her car engine still idling, he said.
"I find that nine times out of 10 when I talk to someone illegally parked, there's a spot 15 feet away," DiPietro said.
Violators can receive a citation of up to $500 and 12 points on their licenses — the equivalent of a DUI. For the most part, though, those who cooperate with the officers tend to receive a $140 citation that they can pay without going to court, officers say.
On Saturday, DiPietro, Trumbauer and Mark Camm handed out at least five such citations. DiPietro's first stop was a Subway shop and a Little Caesar's pizza store in Glen Burnie where management often complains about customers who park in handicapped spots or the painted lines next to the spot. He sipped a diet Mountain Dew in his unmarked cruiser, which has a picture of him and his two children on the dashboard.
"People minimize the violation if they're just going in to get a pizza or a sub. They don't think it's that big of a deal," DiPietro said. "My favorite excuse is at fast food restaurants when people say they're only going to be a minute. Everyone's there a minute."
"There's no sense to it," said Chris Alden, who's managed the Subway for 15 years. "They're just too lazy. There's plenty of parking out there."
The handicapped placards are issued by the state, and owners are given a wallet-sized card for verification of ownership. Though there's a database to verify whom placards are registered to, officers can't easily access it in the field when drivers can't come up with the card.
The first car DiPietro approached was that of 60-year-old George Neece of Brooklyn. He said he doesn't mind being asked for his ID card if it keeps the abusers out of the parking spots. "That's what it's for," Neece said.
Another man couldn't initially find his ID card and started to show DiPietro his scars from a surgery — DiPietro declined and let him slide. The man later chased down DiPietro, waving his card in the air to vindicate himself.
At a nearby Shopper's Food Warehouse, 50-year-old Linda Martin was in a handicapped parking spot loading groceries into her daughter's car. She had a placard, but took some time to fumble around her car for the ID card before admitting it was issued to her husband, who was not there.
"My leg was bothering me," Martin said when asked why she used his placard.
When DiPietro said she was facing a $500 fine, Martin's daughter whipped out a cell phone and called her father, who rushed to the grocery store to prove the placard was valid. He seemed to believe this would erase the $140 ticket and questioned why it didn't.
The answer was simple.
"I've got to keep the spots clear for you, sir," DiPietro told him.
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