PEORIA — The nice, uniformed man in the Secretary of State Police SUV patrolling the Shoppes at Grand Prairie on Black Friday morning wasn't on the lookout for door-busting bargains. He was looking to ticket able-bodied violators of handicapped parking spaces.
"The Secretary of State Police are part of a statewide effort to do what we can to patrol the parking lots of major shopping areas to catch violators of parking spaces reserved for the disabled," investigator Bill Boletta said Friday morning.
The message could not be more clear:
"Don't do it," Boletta said. "I hope I don't have to write any tickets."
With the holiday shopping season underway in earnest, Boletta drove from Springfield early Friday to warn Peoria-area residents of the potentially expensive and karmic folly of parking in a spot clearly identified as handicapped accessible. The effort, and the efforts of other Secretary of State Police officers across the state, was part sting operation, part public service announcement. The department's jurisdiction stems from its authority over distribution of handicap license plates and temporary handicap placards. Other law enforcement agencies, from local police to county sheriff offices to the Illinois State Police, are equally authorized to ticket vehicles that don't legally belong in a handicap space.
Tickets are subject to fines of up to $600 and a driver's license suspension of up to six months, Boletta said.
Short stops at a store are not an excuse, legally or psychologically.
"Someone who needs the space could be coming around right behind you," Boletta said.
A more common violation than an unauthorized park in a restricted space is the misuse of a temporary handicap placard. Boletta said that placards are assigned to individuals, not vehicles, and the borrowed use of one is just as illegal as parking in a handicap space without one.
In recent years, stores and shopping centers have created more convenient parking spots for specified individuals who are not eligible to park in a handicap spot. For instance, in the lot outside of Marshalls in Grand Prairie where Boletta offered his cautionary tale to reporters is a spot "Reserved for Expectant Mothers." Other spaces around the city are designated for active military, veterans, first responders and new, if not expecting, mothers. Those signs, however, are not backed by the weight of law. So, Boletta was asked, anything goes with those?
His paraphrased answer:
Let your conscience be your guide.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.