Volunteers might patrol handicapped slots in Monroeville

| Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009

Seeing an able-bodied teenager get out from behind the wheel of a vehicle parked in a handicapped spot was the final straw for retired Monroeville police Officer Ron Harvey.

"I stood right in front of her and stared at the sign and told her it was handicapped, and she just walked away and laughed," said Harvey, who headed up Monroeville's traffic division.

That's when Harvey decided to present his idea for stepping up ticketing of handicapped-parking violators to Monroeville Council.

Harvey wants to form an all-volunteer unit whose members would be trained in the vehicle code and then given the authority to issue tickets to those who illegally park in handicapped-parking spaces or fraudulently use a handicapped permit. Harvey has offered to train the volunteers and track their progress. The civilians could be empowered to write tickets through an ordinance approved by council, said Monroeville police Chief George Polnar.

"I knew as a police officer it was tough to enforce parking because we had so many accidents and traffic situations," said Harvey, who spent 25 years on the police force. "Once in a while you might get to check them out, but they aren't consistently enforced."

Monroeville police officers have written four tickets since January for handicapped-parking violations, said Assistant Chief Doug Cole. They issued 60 tickets for other violations, he said.

Harvey proposed that members of the volunteer unit get a small percentage of the tickets they issue as compensation for their time and use of their own vehicles.

Harvey told council he especially would like to see physically disabled people help in the effort.

"I want to see (a violator) tell the guy in the wheelchair or the guy with a prosthetic leg why you should be parking there," he said.

Similar programs are in place in dozens of cities.

Through July, volunteers in Jacksonville, Fla., have written nearly 2,000 tickets since the program's inception in June 2008, said Katie Metz, manager of the city's disability services office, which oversees about 80 volunteers.

"We always see a spike (in the spring) and then it goes down because people know we are enforcing it so people aren't parking there illegally," she said. More handicapped people use the spaces when the weather is nice, so that's when the program steps up its efforts.

Judy Barricella, who is physically disabled and director of Allegheny County's Disability Connection, a program within the human services department that assists those with disabilities, said she thinks Harvey's idea could work.

Many physically disabled people use a lift to get in and out of their vehicle and need the extra room provided by wider van-accessible spaces.

"I've been stuck many times not being able to get into my van because people have parked inside the (handicapped space's) striped lines," Barricella said. "So then I have to rely on a stranger who is willing to move my van for me. I drive from my wheelchair so there's no seat, so it takes a brave person to move my van."

Monroeville Mayor Greg Erosenko said he and council members need to discuss the program with Harvey, but it could be up for a vote as early as next month.

"I'm so much in favor of it," Erosenko said. "I see people parking in handicapped spots, and they get out and they're in better shape than I'm in."

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