Police in Maryland can now more easily identify drivers who are using handicapped parking permits illegally, clearing up spaces reserved for disabled motorists.
The state Motor Vehicle Administration and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services have developed a way for local law enforcement agencies to give police officers access to a database of handicapped parking permits.
Previously, the database could be accessed only by MVA investigators, requiring the MVA and police departments across the state to coordinate enforcement efforts and meaning officers couldn't look up the information themselves.
"It's going to allow law enforcement to retrieve that info right from their cruiser," said MVA spokesman Buel Young.
Officers can access information about handicapped permits from inside their police cruisers using the Law Enforcement Dashboard, a Web-based database now linked to the MVA's handicapped permit records.
"Now [police] can check it independently and more effectively as they're out and see potential abuse of handicapped parking spaces," said Montgomery County police spokeswoman Lucille Baur.
Local police departments are developing training for using the new database. Montgomery police are scheduling training programs with the MVA for their officers and hope to be out enforcing handicapped parking laws in September, Baur said.
The MVA is also planning an event in October in Montgomery to formally announce the new enforcement capabilities.
Maj. Gary Gardner of the Howard County Police Department said he's already heard of at least one case of an officer using the Law Enforcement Dashboard to cite a driver. Howard County police plan to do more routine details enforcing parking laws now that they don't have to coordinate schedules with MVA investigators.
State officials began to investigate ways to make enforcement of handicapped parking laws easier for police after The Washington Examiner reported in May of rampant abuse of handicapped permits in the Washington region, according to a state report.
Some permits were being stolen and sold in the black market in Prince George's County for $50 apiece.
Officials also are working on connecting the MVA database to the METERS system, a criminal information database used by law enforcement across the country. The connection is scheduled to be finished in October.
"This is a big deal to us," said Gardner. "My father drives around with [a handicapped permit], and I get frustrated when we drive to ball games at Camden Yards and they all get taken up. I always wonder how many people are in those handicapped spots that are supposed to be."