Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No force behind parking for disabled

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 6:55 PM

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It’s not something you're likely to notice until it affects you.

For the second night in a row this month, Shawn Collier (pictured) returned home to his apartment off North Carefree Circle and found a car that didn’t have a permit was parked in the handicapped spot in front of his apartment. For Collier, who is permanently disabled and walks with a cane, it was a huge inconvenience.

So he called the Colorado Springs Police Department, and was told that the police department no longer sends out officers on parking complaints.

“We haven’t quit enforcing it,” says CSPD spokesman Sgt. Steve Noblitt. “We have stopped dispatching on it.”

The most that police can do with a handicapped-parking complaint, he says, is to “air it” — put a call out over the radio, so that if an officer happens to be in the area, he or she can choose to respond if they aren’t busy.

It’s just a budget reality, he says.

“We still have code enforcement volunteers,” he continues, “that will go out and drive around and will issue parking tickets for those violations.”

As of last month, according to the volunteer coordinator Kathy Rowlands, the department had 356 volunteers, doing a number of duties. The department relies heavily on these volunteers, Rowlands says, many of who are retirees and will work 30 to 40 hours a week. Anyone over 18 years of age, without a felony conviction may apply, though the volunteers are carefully vetted, she says. They also must commit to six months with the department, and are expected to put in a minimum of four hours a week.

Sgt. Lonnie Spanswick oversees the parking volunteers, and says that they tend to cruise the parking lots of medical buildings and shopping centers. Last month, he says, his 12 volunteers logged 87 hours total (so much for that four-hours-a-week thing), averaging one to two tickets an hour for parking violations.

“We are doing the best we can with the resources we have,” he says.

When calls of parking violations come to dispatch, the information is forwarded onto Spanswick, who will then forward the complaint to his volunteers. If one is in the area, he or she will drive by and possibly issue a $100 ticket. For public streets, Spanswick says, there are three parking enforcement officers who are responsible for monitoring 1,200 metered spaces in the downtown Springs areas, as well as west in Old Colorado City.

At times, a patrol officer might see a violation and stop to issue a ticket, but Spanswick asks, with the police department generally understaffed, “Do you really want your cops writing parking tickets?”

Accessibility laws for handicapped parking are the product of federal law, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, he says. They don’t say that a business must police the spots for violators, only that a business must make the spots available.

Overall, this leaves the policing of handicapped spots on private property to the business owners.

In Collier’s case, he complained to management at his Greentree Village complex. Its policy is that when a complaint is made, the manager on duty will make a determination whether or not to tow. Typically, they try to avoid it, says assistant manager Antwonne Kim.

Greentree didn’t have the car towed in Collier’s case; but for whatever reason, it hasn’t reappeared in the spot since then. Collier’s thankful for that, but irritated that the police aren’t more aggressive.

“They are taking our taxes and saying that they don’t have enough money,” he says. “What are they taking our taxes for if they are not going to do their job?”

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