In a gesture intended to put parking cheaters on notice, DMV agents ticketed dozens of drivers accused of using disabled placards to snag prime parking spaces, even though the placards were not issued to them or anyone in the car.
The DMV sting operation comes in response to an NBC4 I-Team investigation which caught cheaters using placards belonging to friends and relatives, including a child, a deceased relative and a disabled sibling, in two different parts of the Los Angeles area.
"We’re hoping that more and more people will be thinking twice about using that placard in an illegal manner," said DMV Deputy Chief Vito Scattaglia, who added that the sting is meant as a deterrent to would-be "parking cheaters."
It is a criminal misdemeanor in California to use someone else’s disabled placard if that person isn’t in the car. Violators face fines of $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
The DMV sting operation began near LA’s popular Runyon Canyon hiking area in Hollywood, where street parking is reserved for residents. Hikers have to park and walk a few blocks away, unless they have a disabled placard which allows them to park in restricted spaces.
Among the six hikers issued criminal citations at Runyon Canyon: a man using a placard registered to his disabled wife who wasn’t in the car, and a 26-year-old man using his mother’s Arizona placard to park.
"They’re taking your handicapped placard from me because I used it to park," the young man told his mother by cellphone while DMV police were confiscating her placard.
DMV agents also moved in on the Fashion District of downtown LA, where the I-Team found drivers parking all day long, for free, at meters because they were displaying placards belonging to relatives.
Agents issued 19 citations in that area in one morning. Among those cited was a woman running errands who parked free at a meter using her boss' disabled placard.
"In the past, there has not been any kind of consequence or ramifications of the abuse or misuse" of disabled placards, Scattaglia told NBC4.
In fact, LA Parking Enforcement officers told I-Team undercover producers they knew all about placards cheaters across the LA area, including in the downtown Fashion District and at Runyon Canyon. But they almost never issue citations for placard misuse, even though they have the power to do so.
LA Parking Enforcement issued over 2.6 million parking tickets last year, but only 86 of those were for the violation of placard misuse.
NBC4 asked LA Parking Enforcement if citing placard cheaters was a low priority compared to easier and more lucrative tasks, including ticketing drivers at expired meters.
"Well, I wouldn’t say that, but I would have to check back why the number (of placard misuse citations) was so low," said LADOT Sgt. Kimmi Porter.
LA Parking Enforcement officials told NBC4 that because of the I-Team’s investigation, it too will consider doing sting operations to catch placard cheaters in the downtown LA and Runyon Canyon areas.