Armed with two-way radios and ticket books, a posse of civilian volunteers soon may ride herd over Oxnard motorists who park illegally in spaces reserved for the disabled.
Preparing for the first crackdown of its kind in Ventura County, police today will ask Oxnard officials for permission to create a two-person unit to patrol handicapped parking stalls throughout the city.
If approved by the City Council, the unit would scour public parking lots and hand out $280 citations to violators.
“We’ve asked for this for years,” said Linda Galbraith, who has used a wheelchair since 1982, after losing a leg in a car accident. “Those parking spaces are blatantly abused. After a while, you’re so frustrated, you don’t know what to do.”
The plan represents the latest example of a city deputizing citizens for police work.
In Thousand Oaks, city officials are studying a proposal to outfit residents with cellular telephones as part of a mobile crime-watch program. And throughout the county, citizens are banding together to patrol their own streets and parks.
“I think we are able to provide a better level of service by having people contribute to their community,” Oxnard Police Chief Harold Hurtt said. “It’s an excellent way of citizens getting involved and supporting the Police Department and the city.”
Hurtt said the state Vehicle Code allows cities to create civilian patrols devoted specifically to enforcing traffic laws governing handicapped parking.
“When you’re out answering calls, it’s pretty hard to stop and write traffic tickets,” Hurtt said, adding that officers occasionally cite vehicles illegally parked in handicapped spaces. “This is an attempt to dedicate specific individuals to this problem.”
As proposed, Oxnard would establish a six-month pilot program and recruit two volunteers to work two hours a day, three days a week.
The traffic-enforcement duo will be trained in ticket writing and public relations and will be outfitted with vests and badges identifying them as members of the volunteer patrol. Each volunteer will be reimbursed 26 cents per mile and be covered by workers’ compensation insurance.
Money generated by citations would be earmarked for the city’s efforts to comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
Under the law, all public agencies and private businesses with 25 or more workers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees and customers with physical, mental or learning disabilities.
At Oxnard City Hall, a variety of modifications must be made, including improvements to 12 restrooms currently inaccessible to the disabled.
“One of the innovative things out of this enforcement is that money would go toward making those modifications necessary to bring the city into fuller compliance with the law,” said Housing Director Sal Gonzalez, whose department administers compliance efforts.
For Galbraith, the increased enforcement can’t come soon enough. She sometimes has to wait for 45 minutes to an hour for an open handicapped space, she said, and too often they are occupied by motorists who have no right to use them.
“I hope one day we won’t need this type of program,” Galbraith said. “I hope that people will have respect for people with disabilities and start treating them as people who have rights, rather than people who just take up space.”