Group helps enforce disabled parking laws

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PHOENIX -- Good parking spaces are at a premium in many crowded mall parking lots this season, but don't give in to the temptation of parking in a handicapped space.

Fines go up to $500

It could cost you as much as $500.

Parking illegally in a disabled spot is expensive if you get caught and a group of volunteers is helping police in Phoenix make sure the guilty don't get away with it.

"Disabled parking is not a privilege, it's a necessity," said Phoenix police Officer Walter Olsen.

A necessity that is not always acknowledged.

Driving through a packed shopping mall you may think there are plenty of disabled slots. Well, there aren't. As soon as one spot becomes available there is usually another disabled driver waiting to park.

Maria Lang needs a cane in order to walk. She becomes perturbed when someone without a disabled plate or placard is parked in a disabled slot.

"It kind of upsets me because people that need it have to park a mile away and it's hard for them with canes and wheelchairs," she said.

Jim Winston needs a wheelchair to get around. That doesn't keep him from volunteering for ACE, Accessibility Compliance Enforcement. That's a group that helps the Phoenix Police Department enforce disabled parking laws.

"The thing that I would love to do is park out as far away as I can and walk into the store, that is my dream, but unfortunately with the wheelchair I can't do that," Winston said. "I must have these kinds of spaces available."

The fines start at $250 and can go as high as $500.

You would think that at those prices, people wouldn't dare break the law, but that is not the case and, unfortunately, those people with disabilities are the ones who pay for the selfishness of others.

"Folks say they were going to park there and just be there for a second or two, run inside and run right back out, but if you add up all the times that people do that, you've eliminated a disabled parking space for someone that needs it," Olsen said. "Disabled parking is a necessity not a privilege for folks."

Only about 2 percent to 4 percent of all parking spaces in a typical mall are designated for the disabled, yet 5 percent to 7 percent of the population qualify as disabled.