12/26/2012 11:50 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2013

Deputize Me, Please!


The city of Shaoyang in Hunan Province, China has it right! Recognizing that they had a quality of life problem with people spitting, illegally parking and littering, and with a shortage of workers who previously kept order, they capitalized on the fact that they had a considerable population of elderly citizens with free time. They authorized these seniors to give tickets for minor violations and offered a financial incentive -- seniors may keep 80% of the fines they issue. Shaoyang now has a force of eager citizens who keep the peace and enforce the law.

The City of Beverly Hills, like many cities around the country, has a real problem with the growing misuse of disabled placards. We have some litterers and not many spitters, but we do have many people with questionable handicapped status who use a disabled placard. They park at meters (without paying) for extended periods of time and park in the city's permit zones without regard for permit designations. In the business corridor I've seen vehicles with a disabled placard occupy almost every metered parking space. A significant issue is the use of disabled placards by people who work at local businesses -- sales people at the department stores that line Wilshire Blvd. and workers at the stores and restaurants that line Beverly Drive. How do they secure the placards? Who is issuing them and whose placard is it really?

Why is this a problem? Those who are taking up disabled spaces are denying the truly disabled the accommodations that they need. Others who misuse a disabled placard are not only immoral and unethical, but they are committing a crime, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The Department of Motor Vehicles vehicle code says it is considered misuse to:

• Display a placard unless the disabled owner is being transported.
• Loan your placard to anyone, including family members.
• Misuse is a misdemeanor (section 4461VC) and can result in cancellation or revocation of the placard, loss of parking privileges and/or fines.

The issue remains that there are a vast number of individuals who are misusing disabled placards and it is extremely difficult to cite them. The process and conditions necessary to cite one individual is extremely time intensive and overwhelming for even the conscientious Beverly Hills parking enforcement force. Surveillance must be set up and the individual must be observed either leaving or entering the vehicle. At that point the individual may be asked for identification and proof that the disabled placard was issued to him.

The Beverly Hills parking enforcement department has directed residents to call the parking enforcement number to report illegal use of permits or illegal parkers. They can and will send an officer out to "investigate" but it is unlikely that they will see the violator as he has already left the vehicle and the street on which the vehicle is parked. Understandably, the citizenry and even the enforcement officers are frustrated.

I have worked with the Beverly Hills parking enforcement department to report individuals who regularly abuse disabled placards -- but I, too, have reached the limit of my cooperative nature and am frustrated. While some reports were successfully followed up on and resulted in the violator being cited, others cannot be acted upon because of the surveillance and observation regulations involved. The only reason some of those reported could be apprehended is that they had regular schedules that could be identified and surveillance was timed for those particular hours.

There are many others who abuse the placard -- I've seen them park, place the placard on their rearview mirror and jog to the business section to shop, returning to their vehicles laden with packages and showing no signs of being handicapped. Some leave their cars parked on our streets for the entire working day. I do not profess to be able to determine each person's disability, but it is very obvious that the vast majority are not handicapped. Violators span all ages, shapes and ethnicities. There's no typical abuser, but what is universal is the rampant abuse.

The issue is twofold. First of all, doctors and health professionals must stop issuing disabled placards to individuals who don't need them. A neighbor and former City of Beverly Hills Traffic and Parking Commissioner, is fond of boasting that he won his disabled placard in a tennis game with his doctor. Second the conditions of enforcement must be changed. What can be done? Following the lead of the city of Shaoyang, I am suggesting that we need to develop a force of residents who have the authority to cite individuals for disabled placard misuse. I am confident that there would be many interested citizens who would volunteer to perform this service. I'll do it for free! Just deputize me, please!