By 10:00 Friday morning, the Woodfield Mall parking lot was at capacity. It was difficult for anyone to find a space, but for disabled drivers like Francisco Ortado, it was almost impossible.
“That’s why I didn’t come early,” he said. “That’s why I came now.”
But this holiday season, Francisco has someone watching his back. Investigator Glenn Florkow and his colleagues at the Secretary of State’s Police Department are here at Woodfield cracking down on people who abuse the accessible spaces available to disabled drivers. “These are flagrant violations,” Florkow said, “there is quite a bit of abuse.”
Shortly after arriving at the mall, Florkow blocked the exit of a light colored sedan with a suspicious disabled driver placard hanging from its rear view mirror. The placard turned out to be one reported missing by its legitimate owner. Now the man in the car is facing a court appearance and up to a $500 fine for allegedly displaying a placard that didn’t belong to him.
Bill Bogdan, the Secretary of State’s liaison to the disabled community helped write the Parking Program for Persons with Disabilities. On Black Friday, he watched from his wheelchair as ticket after ticket was written. “When you have people who blatantly abuse the program,” he said, “it makes it harder on those people who really need the spaces.”
According to Bogdan, there are approximately 84,000 disability plates issued in Illinois and more than 443,000 placards. That number, he said, is down from more than 700,000 as the Secretary of States Office switched from permanent placards to ones that are renewable every four years.
The fine for parking in an accessible space without a plate or a placard can be as much as $350. Using plates or placards fraudulently can draw fines of up to $1000 and a possible felony conviction.
On Black Friday, Secretary of State Police will be working not only the Woodfield Mal, but also Oak Brook and Orland Park Malls in the Chicago area. They will also be working downstate in Bloomington, Carbondale, Fairview Heights, Rockford and Springfield. Other enforcement actions are planned later for malls in Champaign, Effingham and Peoria.