By TRAVIS MORSE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — For Investigator Jonah Kinsolving, enforcing disabled parking laws is one of the more gratifying parts of his job with the Illinois Secretary of State Police.
Not only does the work serve an important function, but disabled veterans and other groups are often very appreciative of what he's doing, Kinsolving said.
“It's one of the few things that I get thanked for the most,” Kinsolving said. “It's neat that the people that actually have (disabled parking placards) support it so much.”
Kinsolving conducted a special sting in Mt. Vernon Saturday to crack down on holiday shoppers who violate the Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities.
The enforcement action took place in the Times Square Mall, Kroger and Walmart parking lots, as well as elsewhere in the city.
As part of the sting, Kinsolving patrolled these sites and checked on vehicles parked in handicapped slots to ensure those vehicles were authorized to be there.
Motorists using these slots must display a valid disabled parking placard or license plate on their vehicle to avoid being cited.
On Saturday, 93 placards were inspected in Mt. Vernon and two citations were issued. Both citations were for placards being used while the authorized holder was not present, said Beth Kaufman, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office.
Kinsolving said the violations come in various forms. Most offenders are those using a friend or relative's placard or an expired placard.
In the summer, Kinsolving said he also catches quite a few motorcyclists parking in the “striped zone.”
“We have a zero tolerance policy when we're on these details,” Kinsolving said.
Many times, someone will use their disabled spouse's placard, believing the placard covers them as well, Kinsolving said. This is not the case as the disabled person has to be in the vehicle when the placard is being used.
During Saturday's sting, Kinsolving wrote down the placard number for each vehicle parked in a handicapped slot. The placard includes an expiration date and also indicates the disabled person's gender and date of birth.
Then, Kinsolving waited for the drivers to return to their vehicles so he could check to make sure everything was in order.
Kinsolving started patrolling the Mt. Vernon area in July. Since that time, the number of disabled parking violators he's cited in the city has dropped significantly, he said.
“I was getting one nearly every day (at first),” Kinsolving said. “Now, people see me, they know about what time I work, so I haven't got one in two or three weeks. … I try real hard to catch them.”
In 2012, more than 160 citations were issued in Illinois to violators of the Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities, states a news release from the Secretary of State's Office.
The penalties for violating this law can be serious. Drivers who misuse a placard face a six-month driver's license suspension and a $500 fine, the release states.
Also, repeat violators could receive a one-year license suspension and a $1,000 fine for a second offense. Third or subsequent offenses result in a $1,000 fine and a one-year license revocation.
“This is actually one of the worst things you can do besides a DUI because administratively the Secretary of State suspends your license when you get hit with one of these,” Kinsolving said. “And it's a huge fine.”
The fine for parking in a handicapped space without a placard or plate can be as high as $350, the release states.