Citizens in Action: Eight city residents sworn in to stamp out illegal parking

photo by Kevin King

If you are planning on parking in a handicap space for a few minutes while you run in and grab a pack of smokes or a fountain drink at your local convenient store, watch out!

You just might find yourself with a date at the municipal courthouse and a hefty fine. Beaumont police are cracking down on drivers who try to get a closer spot by illegally parking in spaces designated for the handicapped with the help of concerned citizens through Citizens in Action, a program designed to allow volunteers to write handicap-parking citations among other duties that help the Beaumont Police Department.

Stephen “Doc” Watson, 64, was one of eight volunteers sworn into the program by BPD Chief James Singletary on Tuesday evening, March 25, at the Beaumont Police Department training room.

Watson signed up for the 14-week Citizens Police Academy, where attendees learn how to handle traffic stops, use batons and handcuffs, firearm and driving techniques, among other skills. The academy gives city residents a glimpse of the training police officers endure and is a pre-requisite to becoming a Citizens in Action volunteer.

The training is held one evening each week and offered at no cost to residents of Jefferson County who are at least 18 years of age, according to the BPD website.

Watson said he volunteered for the program because he thought it was good for the community and because he has witnessed drivers taking advantage of parking spaces that are needed by the handicapped.

“My father is also elderly and for about the last four years, he’s needed to use handicap spaces,” Watson said. “It’s been really frustrating … to see people parking in spots that he now needs.”

Watson said the problem has become chronic in Beaumont.

“Not only are they parking in the handicap parking spaces, they’re pulling in across the stripes where if someone had a wheelchair, they couldn’t get out,” he said.

Officer Doug Kibodeaux who trains volunteers in both the Citizens Police Academy and Citizens in Action programs said that having volunteers hand out parking tickets frees up officers to handle more serious crimes.

“We used to get complaints all the time and they used to send officers to take care of it,” Kibodeaux said. “We’d go out and issue citations, which would keep us tied up for a while. In 2010, we lacked three citations from writing $100,000 worth of (illegal handicap parking) tickets in the city of Beaumont.”

Roy McGrath, a Citizens in Action volunteer, said that most of the tickets he writes for illegal parking in handicap spaces are at the mall or hospitals in Beaumont and when it’s raining or cold.

“People tend to want to park close to the door,” said McGrath, who explained that a ticket for illegally parking in a handicapped parking spot could cost more than $500 for a first offense.

McGrath said volunteers walk all around the vehicle to look for handicap placards before issuing citations and if they see one that might have just been displayed incorrectly, they usually issue a warning instead.

 “It’s a good way to give something back,” McGrath said of his volunteer work. “What we do frees up a couple of officers to … patrol your neighborhood and be out there on the street.”

Chief Singletary said that although Citizens in Action volunteers are not allowed to carry weapons, they do carry a police radio that allows them to call for backup if needed and a flashlight and camera to take pictures of vehicles and license plates.

“I’ve known some of these men and women for a long time and some of them get a little feisty,” Singletary said. “But we don’t want them to be feisty. Any sign somebody may be agitated, get out and disengage and maybe even call us.”

Kibodeaux said BPD has two vehicles for volunteers to drive and spends time and money to train the volunteers, but the cost to the city is worth it because of the additional duties volunteers perform.

“These guys are not just an asset in that they are writing all these citations freeing our officers up; they also volunteer for other things. They also do radar surveys for us.”

Kibodeaux said if BPD receives complaints about speeding on a certain street, it dispatches members of Citizens in Action to survey the street.

“They’ll take their car and (go) in uniform,” he said. “They’ve all been shown how to use radar guns. We have this list made up. They’ll put the speed down for every car that goes through there within a certain time period. It gives us something we can take to Traffic and say, ‘Look, there is a problem.’”

“It really makes us feel good that the citizens are helping execute these programs for the community,” said Chief Singletary. “It’s really neat that these ladies and gentlemen want to get involved in some of these things that we’re doing.”

For more information on Citizens in Action, visit www.beaumontpd.com/citizens_action.htm or call (409) 880-3802.

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