WALTHAM (CBS) - Officer Robert Williams has learned to quickly spot the telltale signs of suspicious handicap placard use.
Williams, a Waltham police officer who has focused on handicap parking enforcement for several years, quickly listed some of the common examples: a placard hanging backwards; a placard placed face down on the dashboard; or a placard with an air freshener obscuring the expiration date.
As Williams patrolled the lot at Market Basket, he asked to see the placards of drivers coming and going from their vehicles, which gives him a chance to see if the photo matches the person using the privilege.
Drivers with nothing to hide welcomed the enforcement with open arms. Several people went out of their way to say, "Thanks."
"You generate a lot of goodwill," Williams said. "You're opening up spots for people who truly need them."
Before long, one driver was caught in a lie. The placard belonged to her husband. At first she told the police officer he was still in the grocery store.
But after seeing Williams planned to stay until he emerged, she admitted, "He isn't here."
It was an expensive mistake. The woman received a $100 ticket for illegally parking in a handicap spot, along with a $500 citation for misuse of a placard, which also carries a possible 30-day loss of license.
"It's a hefty fine, but obviously it's because we want to deter this kind of behavior," Williams said.
A couple miles down the road at Costco, Williams discovered another suspicious example: a woman using the placard of an elderly man.
The woman said she was a caregiver, and claimed her 93-year-old client had been with her at the store, but left with someone else when he didn't feel well.
"I'll be honest with you ma'am, I don't believe you," Williams said as he handed her a ticket.
Since implementing a targeted enforcement of handicap parking in 2010, Waltham police have issued approximately 7,300 tickets, according to Sgt. William Gallant. In the process, officers have confiscated hundreds of expired or fabricated placards.
"We've had a dozen just in the past couple of weeks," Gallant said.
In Fall River, the police department has also made it a priority. In the past three years, officers have written more than 4,300 tickets, including 151 of the more serious "misuse" violations.
Officer John Riley has heard all kinds of crazy stories during the crackdown.
"One lady told me her father was in the store when he was deceased," Riley said. "It was a good hour before she admitted it."
While patrolling a shopping center, Riley spotted a temporary placard that expired in July 2014. The man claimed he sent in the paperwork, and blamed the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) for not sending him a new one.
WBZ checked with the RMV and found out the man applied for a permanent placard in March, but the request was rejected.
"There's no excuse. If you're not handicapped, there's no reason whatsoever you should be parked in a handicap spot," Riley said.
Both Waltham and Fall River were mentioned in a 2013 Massachusetts Inspector General investigation of handicap placard abuse.
The report credited the departments with operating "self-funding enforcement programs that could serve as models for other municipalities."
To report suspected handicap placard abuse visit: http://www.massrmv.com/rmv/hp_complaint/
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