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New Program To Curb Handicap Tag Thefts On Streets Of Baltimore

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- It's a crime that targets a vulnerable population. The city says disability placard theft is a widespread problem.

Monique Griego has more on how they hope a new program will curb it.

Right now, the placards allow people to park in any metered space for free. Because of that, their street value can be as high as $200. Now the city is trying to take away some of that value.

It's a hot item being traded on the streets of Baltimore.

"The passenger side window had been broken and the handicap placard had been stolen," said Dr. Sarah Begus, disabled driver.

That was the second time Begus had her disability placard stolen from her car. The tags are targeted because they allow people to park in metered spaces for free. The thefts are now a huge problem for the city.

"Placards sell between $70 to $200 a piece. So there's an incentive for people to steal them, break into people's cars," said Dr. Knollie Wood, Mayor's Commission of Disabilities.

The parking authority and police have tried cracking down on thieves and abusers through sting operations, but...

"It's like finding a needle in a haystack, really," said Pete Little, city parking authority. "You can't really get at the root of that problem."

Little says to take away the financial incentive, the city is kicking off "Project Space." The program reserves 200 spots for disabled drivers. All other metered parking will no longer be free with a placard.

Every year in Baltimore City, around 2,000 handicap placards are stolen. As you can imagine, they're mostly abused in areas where it's hard to find parking--around hospitals, universities and in downtown.

"In fact, today here on the unit block of West Fayette Street, 11 out of 12 vehicles are using or abusing disability placards," Little said.

City leaders believe the program will free up spaces in downtown and cut down on a costly crime.

Adrianna Johnson's placard has been swiped twice. She says while it was a hassle to get it replaced, the real damage was what happened to her vehicle.

"It cost me over $500 to get it repaired," she said.

If you are caught using a stolen placard, the city can impound your vehicle and slap you with a $500 fine.

"Project Space" begins in the downtown business district on July 10.

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