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July 23, 2008 > Not So Handicapped

Not So Handicapped

Disabled citizens fight illegal handicapped parking

By Ethan Chou

Our society often marginalizes the contributions of elderly and disabled citizens. Local volunteers are working diligently to prevent people from taking advantage of those who, although frail, form an important segment of the community.

The goal of Fremont's Handicapped Area Parking Patrol (or HAPP) is to raise awareness of disabled parking issues and more effectively enforce current handicapped parking laws. By employing a team of dedicated volunteers, the Fremont Police Department has been able to reduce parking violations, alleviating some of the stress experienced by victims of handicapped parking misuse. Following a general background check and interview to determine their commitment to the job, individuals in the program are trained in police protocol and procedures, given uniforms, citation books, and a police vehicle. Their job is to patrol, educate and cite those who violate handicapped parking laws.

Founded in July of 1996 as the direct result of a dispute involving the abuse of a parking space specifically marked for disabled persons' use, the original patrol consisted of 10 volunteer members. Headed by Sergeant Loriaux, the officer who handled the case and a childhood friend of the man making the complaint, the sole mission of the unit was to look for parking violators and properly penalize them. Since then, the size of the group has more than doubled to include nearly 25 members.

According to Sergeant Antonio Delgado, who currently heads the program, many of the volunteers have strong personal feelings about people who abuse these specially marked parking spaces. The members "usually have someone in their family who has been a victim of this kind of abuse...and are now fighting back," or are among the "elderly wanting to give back to the community," says Delgado. However, he also encourages anyone who wishes to devote their time to enforcing these laws to volunteer.

This unique program has clearly gone a long way toward stopping the illegal practice. Patrol members write on average 70 tickets a month for expired placards, blatant disregard for rules concerning handicapped-only parking, and the like. At $225 per infraction, there is plenty of incentive to stop unauthorized use of handicapped parking.

Efforts of this group as a supplement to the Fremont Police Department have improved the safety and quality of life for a citizen group that requires a bit of special attention. Sgt. Delgado notes that although this issue is not a huge problem, it does require attention to protect those who need it. Unfortunately, some believe they can simply ignore these laws. He says, "There are people who abuse it and we are here to do something about it."

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