Oahu's handicapped parking problems
Special enforcement officers watch for abuse
Parking is such a premium on Oahu that some drivers will go to great lengths to get that prime spot right in front of the store, including breaking law.
Handicapped stalls are supposed to reserved for those with physical limitations.
"It is very important for people that are really handicapped, that they have a spot so they can park and go to their destination or store," said Kaimuki resident B.J. Inouye.
Along with handicapped drivers, able-bodied ones are also taking up those prime parking spots.
"I've seen some people park there illegally. I'd write a ticket if I could. I just try to let them know they can't park there in the spot," said James Phillips, a security guard at Market City Shopping Center.
Phillips can't write a ticket, and regular Honolulu police officers don't. So who is watching out for violators?
"It is not just about violations and writing citations, it is also about education," said Thomas Sugita, a volunteer special enforcement officer or VSEO.
Sugita and nearly two-dozen other part-time volunteers patrol for handicapped parking abuse and they find plenty. They write between 80-90 tickets every week, which adds up to more than 4,000 throughout the year.
Drivers can be cited for not having a matching ID card that goes with a current placard, or parking with an expired one.
Sometimes a driver without any placard will park in a handicapped stall, but according to HPD the greatest abuse comes from those with a current handicapped parking permit.
"It is easy to violate, easy to take your auntie's placard to run to the store real quick and be a few minutes in the spot," said Gamaliel Velasco, an HPD officer with the VSEO program.
Illegally parking in those blue spaces could end up costing a lot of green. The fine for most of the handicapped infractions is $260.
The penalty for placard abuse will cost the handicapped person even more: their permit to park.
"If you're spotted by one of our volunteers and you are unable to produce the ID card the volunteers can and will confiscate the placard from you," said Velasco.
"I've had people swear and point the finger at me. I've had people tear up the ticket and throw it down," said Sugita.
It may seem like a thankless job, with illegal parkers getting upset and no pay, but Thomas said the reward for volunteering comes from those who need the most help.
"When we're doing a citation, a handicapped person or someone with a handicapped family member will say, 'You're doing a good job.' They pat us on the back and it makes us feel good," said Sugita.
HPD's parking volunteers go through a 20-hour-training course and have some police powers. They can issue citations for other violations and can ticket anywhere there are handicapped spaces, even on private property.
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