UNA Police continue supressing illegal handicapped parking

by Student Writer Shaun Swinehart

Officials from the UNA Police Department indicated last year they would begin cracking down on illegally parking in handicapped spaces.

Since early 2014, the situation has improved, but the problem is still present, said Interim UNA Police Chief Mark Parker.

Parker said 408 tickets were written for handicapped parking violations between spring 2013 and fall 2014. He said since fall 2014, the police department has issued 126 tickets for the violation.

Senior Michael Bramlett said the biggest problem he faces on campus is parking.

“Parking, for every student, is a nightmare,” Bramlett said. “When I first started driving here, before the UNA Public Safety Institute kind of cracked down, people would get their grandparents’ handicap decals and would use that to be able to park in handicap spots.”

Parker said the driver of the car does not have to be handicapped to be authorized to park in a handicapped space. Another passenger could require the decal.

He said the police department is still working on reducing the frequency of the violations, and one way he hopes to achieve that goal is by increasing the ticket fee of $50.

“I have got plans to talk to the parking committee when they come into session a little later on, but right now ($50) is the standard fee for the handicap parking violation with a university citation,” he said.

Freshman Bianca Phillips said she believes a higher fee will have a positive impact.

“If ticket prices are raised, it will force students to do the right thing and park where they’re supposed to,” Phillips said.

“Today, I was driving around waiting to find a spot, and you just see people who park in the spots, literally running to or from their cars,” Bramlett said. “It just makes it hard for me to find a spot.”

Bramlett said most of his classes are in the Communications Building, but when all the handicapped spaces there are taken, he has to park at Powers Hall. UNA has also begun issuing some temporary handicapped parking decals, Parker said.

“If proper documentation is presented, we have a placard that we allow people to put on their dash,” he said. “It shows that they are authorized to park in handicap spaces for a temporary amount of time.”

“Of course, if someone has a permanent disability, they need to go to the courthouse and get one,” Parker said.

Bramlett said he hopes the department will start issuing permanent handicapped decals as well.

Even if a person who has a decal hanging in his or her car does not appear handicapped “officers can’t go up to a person and ask them what’s your disability or what’s your handicap,” Bramlett said.

He said that makes it easy for students to get away with using someone else’s decal.

A policy that allows students to sign up for a handicapped decal before each semester would help alleviate the problem, he said.

Parker also said someone who is not handicapped parked in a handicapped space illegally is a valid reason to contact the police department and advise law enforcement of the situation.

“We do get complaints,” Parker said. “Some people require handicapped parking spaces because of their physical abilities. If they come to a location and see there is a handicapped spot taken by someone that doesn’t need that particular space, yeah, they do come in and complain.”

Senior Hailey Boeck said although many students have difficulty finding parking on campus, taking a space away from someone who “actually needs it” is not respectful.

“It’s super inconsiderate,” Boeck said. “That’s one of the handicapped accessible things we actually have a considerate amount of on campus.”

Bramlett said he hopes the violations will continue declining because of the police department’s efforts.

“They did crack down on it, and they’ve issued a lot harsher tickets and penalties,” he said.