The California Department of Motor Vehicles is failing to prevent widespread illegal misuse of disabled placards in certain Southern California neighborhoods where parking spots are hard to find, the NBC4 I-Team has learned.
The findings echo the conclusions of a report from the California Bureau of State Audits, which urged the DMV to expand efforts to stop abuse and fraud in the state's disabled person placard program.
The I-Team first exposed rampant disabled placard abuse in downtown Los Angeles' Fashion District in 2010. In that investigation, NBC4 found that 80 percent of cars parked at meters were displaying disabled placards. State law allows someone to displaying a disabled placard to park free all day, at a meter or in other restricted parking areas.
In the wake of that investigation, DMV officers conducted an undercover sting that resulted in 46 criminal citations for placard misuse, and the department vowed to actively investigate and conduct enforcement operations.
Following the April 2017 report from the Bureau of State Audits, the DMV invited the I-Team to observe its latest sting operation in downtown LA's Fashion and Flower districts, which resulted in 36 citations, three written warnings and the impounding of two vehicles that had displayed placards illegally.
"We've been out and about for years doing these types of enforcement operations," said DMV spokesman Jaime Garza.
But the I-Team has learned the department isn't doing stings in certain problem areas very often.
Between the 2010 sting conducted in the Fashion District after the first I-Team report, and the latest sting on May 11, the DMV conducted just one sting operation in that seven-year period.
Enforcement is lacking in other problem areas, including the streets surrounding the city's popular Runyon Canyon hiking trail.
Three years ago, the I-Team caught hikers monopolizing parking in restricted zones by using other people's placards. One hiker even displayed a placard that had been issued to her dead mother-in-law.
In the two months immediately following our 2014 expose, the DMV issued a total of nine citations. But no sting operations have occurred in the Runyon Canyon area since 2014. The I-Team recently documented that the streets around Runyon Canyon are still clogged with cars displaying placards.
"I blame the DMV, they're not doing their job," said Runyon Canyon resident Vince Brocato, who told the I-Team he's been complaining to the department about out-of-control disabled placard for years.
"They have to do stings more often," added Brocato. "Maybe every six months."
State Auditor Elaine Howle agrees that more frequent enforcement operations would be effectively combat illegal use of disabled placards. In a letter to Governor Jerry Brown that summarized her office's findings, she said that "although DMV's Investigations Unit performs effective sting operations to catch those misusing placards, it has not established specific expectations for the number of operations its district offices should conduct."