The Investigators: Handicapped Parking Problems - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

The Investigators: Handicapped Parking Problems

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EAST TEXAS (KYTX) -

Handicapped parking as we know it has been around since 1988--created as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Drivers have been getting handicap parking permits for more than 25 years, so you'd think that was enough time for everyone to figure out how to use the spots and respect the reason they're there.

But The Investigators have uncovered data that shows people park in them all the time. And they're not handicapped.

In a south Tyler parking lot, a driver's unkind hand gesture at the CBS 19 camera highlighted how some people just refuse to play by the rules.

We'd been waiting for a while--wondering when his SUV with no handicap permit was going move out of the clearly marked spot. Finally, the man's friend came back to the car and his gesture was his only response to being caught.

Unfortunately for him, we were there with Tyler police and one of the volunteers tasked with ticketing people like him.

"I will write the ticket and have it mailed to the appropriate folks," Ricky Polcer said.

Polcer is one of five Tylerites who donate their time to catch handicap parking violators.

"Some days when I go out I don't write any and other days I write five or ten," Polcer said.

Despite the bad start, our day with Polcer was a good one. She found no additional violations.

Polcer is disabled and started volunteering because she saw the problem first-hand. She's not alone, either.

"I take it personally," Cindy Grimes said. "And I probably shouldn't. But I do."

Grimes used to volunteer as a ticket writer like Polcer. She eventually stopped when the physical demands of getting around a parking lot on foot became too much to handle with her disability.

"I was hit by a drunk driver the day I was released from the hospital after having my first child," Grimes said. "She burned to death and my mom burned to death."

Her legs were broken, her body was burned, and one foot nearly cut off. Now, she said, there are days where it's almost impossible to get out of bed.

"Imagine walking with dried peas in your shoe," Grimes said. "That's what that feels like when I walk on that foot. The ankle that was nearly severed, it feels like when you step down on it there's a hot ice pick or something like that."

In Tyler volunteers like Polcer are giving out about 1,500 tickets a year.

It sounds like a lot, but that's less than four every day compared to thousands of parking places all over town. Tyler Police Community Response Officer James McCraw said volunteers are the only reason they keep up as well as they do.

"We make sure that it's non-confrontational," McCraw said. "We try to enforce that in our training that we do not like any type of confrontation between them and the citizens that are out here."

McCraw said in addition to flagrant parkers without permits volunteers are also watching for illegally altered placards.

The other big problem is able-bodied people who use friends' or family members' placards--or drive one of their cars with the handicapped plates.

"[When it's time to write the citation] I take three pictures first,'" Polcer said.

With proof in the form of photos snapped in front, in back and at the windshield, the tickets stick. And a recent change in state law raised the fine to $500.

In Tyler 7,080 tickets have brought in $537,809 in the last five years.

In Longview it's a different story. In 2013 officers gave out just 55 tickets for the entire year. That total has been sliding at least since 2011. Police there are stretched thin, as they are in Tyler. But there is no team of volunteers to fill in the gap.

"Even though this is a major thing to me, you know, there are other things that the police need to be doing," Grimes said, adding that it's a battle she's glad people are still fighting.

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