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City Hall to extend crackdown on disability-parking abuse

Updated: November 6, 2012 6:27AM

Despite a flurry of crackdowns and news coverage, dozens of able-bodied drivers still are being caught using disability-parking placards to wrongly try to park for free in metered spots in and around the Loop, city records show.

Since late August, plainclothes officers with the Chicago Police Department’s traffic division and the Illinois Secretary of State Police have conducted “disability-placard missions” on 17 separate days — including Friday morning — to check drivers who hang the state-issued placards to park for free in metered spots. They’ve also been checking drivers who get out of cars with disability license plates.

Between Aug. 24 and Friday, they’ve checked 234 drivers and written 47 city tickets to people who illegally used someone else’s placard or license plate to park for free.

That’s about one ticket for every five cars checked. Fines have ranged between $500 and $1,000.

The police also have confiscated 41 placards that were being used illegally and have impounded one vehicle whose driver had a suspended driver’s license.

On Friday morning, city officials announced plans to continue these spot checks until at least 2014.

That’s when a state law that will eliminate free metered parking for all but a handful of disabled people takes effect. Then, only people who have a special “meter-exempt” placard will be allowed to park free.

“We’re not measuring success by the number of citations we issue,” said City Comptroller Amer Ahmad, who has helped coordinate the checks. “Our goal here is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to parking spaces by doing ongoing and consistent enforcement.”

Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times — aided by retired Chicago police Lt. Robert Angone, whose daughter lost her left leg to cancer when she was 6 months old — documented a growing number of people using disability parking tags to illegally park for free.

The city has to reimburse the private company that operates the meter system for any free parking it provides to people displaying disability placards or plates under the meter-privatization deal approved in Chicago in 2008. So the more the system is abused, the more taxpayers have to pay.

So far, the meter company has submitted $35.5 million in bills to cover the free parking — bills that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused to pay. The issue is now before an independent arbitrator.

As that process plays out, “We continue to be vigilant in our enforcement,” Emanuel said in a statement. “This coordinated effort will find and penalize those who would dare commit fraud.”

The spot checks require police spending hours watching and waiting for people to park, but it’s time well-spent, said Bill Bogdan, disability liaison for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office.

“You’d like to see hundreds of tickets being issued, but you have to be in the right place in the right time,” Bogdan said. “But it’s worthwhile to do. Any enforcement you can do with this program is better than no enforcement at all.”

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