Last month, a reader reached out about a vehicle he had spotted at the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue. It resembled a Colorado Springs Police Department cruiser, but was labeled Disabled Parking Enforcement. It had him shaking his head wondering about the excessive nature of having something so specialized within the community. We sought out some answers for him and for you.
We reached out to Bernie Herpin, a volunteer special police officer with the Disabled Parking Enforcement Program, and a former State Senator. The program was started in the late 1980s. There are 6 volunteers who run the program with the oversight of one Colorado Springs Police Department Sergeant. The volunteers have the authority to enforce city ordinances on public and private properties. They write tickets for vehicles blocking fire hydrants or sidewalks, for vehicles parked in fire lanes, and for vehicles illegally parked in handicap parking spaces.
The volunteers are classroom trained for 2 hours and they have on-the-job training by another volunteer until they are fully up-to-speed on their duties. They receive once-a-month continued training, too. They are unarmed and are taught not to confront the occupants of vehicles. Herpin reports the goal is to NOT write tickets. The volunteers look through vehicle windows to see if they can spot a handicap placard inside each vehicle, assuming the occupant may have forgotten to place it in the window. When they spot a placard, they leave a note for the vehicle owner as a reminder to put the placard on display in the future.
The program is city-wide focused. Herpin says they have 4 volunteers patrolling in 2 vehicles at a time. They don’t work weekends. They start the day patrolling apartment complexes and the afternoon patrols are at Walmarts, shopping malls, and medical complexes.
The program volunteers wrote 2,479 tickets in 2022. Illegal handicap parking violations were the majority of the tickets at 1,318. Parking illegally in a handicap spot is a pricey $350 ticket. An expired handicap placard ticket runs $100. Parking illegally in a fire lane is $70. A sidewalk violation is $50. Herpin estimates that the tickets total $500,000 per year —if all tickets are paid. He’s sure that some are dismissed due to occupants forgetting to display their placards. He knows that many in the community have been skipping paying their fines, too.
We were unable to obtain how much funding the program brings into the City’s general fund, as there is no way to distinguish which tickets were paid through this program vs through tickets written by CSPD officers.
The majority of the cost for the program is for the 2 vehicles. They require radios and uniforms, as well. The only perk the volunteers receive is an annual volunteer lunch put on by the City of Colorado Springs.
Is this policing for profit? Herpin says he and the other volunteers want to make sure that there is parking available for people who legitimately need the handicap spaces.
We don’t have an issue with this all-volunteer program using very limited taxpayer funded resources to ensure the most vulnerable among us can get the most advantageous and safe parking spots. We were all taught about handicap parking spaces in driver’s education classes. If a person isn’t handicapped and takes a parking spot from someone who is, it’s a deserved ticket.