Just outside the door of the Hennepin County Library in Maple Grove there are 12 parking spots reserved for people with disabilities. It seems that whenever I visit, the majority of those prized stalls are unoccupied.

As tempting as it is to pull in and park since I usually dash in to return a book and pick up a new one, I’ve resisted the temptation, figuring that I’d be the one to get caught. Parking illegally is not worth the hefty $200 fine that a ticket would bring, nor is it worth being inconsiderate by taking a spot from somebody who genuinely needs it. The walk from the ramp from across the way if the few surface spaces available for able-bodied people are unavailable isn’t that far anyway.

Most establishments have parking spots set aside for the disabled, provided they have proper vehicle identification. Reader Jeff Hanson said he sees many cases, especially at grocery and convenience stores, when people park in handicapped spots and have no proof that they can do it. Hanson wondered if he should report handicapped parking violations. His question landed in the Drive’s mailbox.

Yes, said Rick Mathwig, the police chief in Roseville.

“Calling their local law enforcement agency about handicapped violations gives them an accurate idea of what is happening in their jurisdiction,” he said. “If a particular grocery store or other retail area receives a high number of calls of handicapped or fire lane violations, it can mean their time spent citing violators will be fruitful or other crime is happening.”

Mathwig said it is acceptable to call 911 to report the violation. The call will likely be routed to the same dispatcher a caller would get if they phoned in on a department’s nonemergency number. It’s not a high-priority call, but agencies can send a sworn officer or a reserve or community service officer to write a ticket, Mathwig said.

Mathwig said focusing in on that helped police in the late 1980s apprehend shoplifters at Rosedale. The thieves would park in handicapped spaces and fire lanes because it allowed them quick access to their vehicles.

Not for quick stops

Not every violator is a criminal. Frequently it’s people just “running in for one quick thing,” said John Elder, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department. “I have no tolerance for that.”

To legally use a handicapped parking spot, a motorist must have a state-issued placard, a permit valid for 30 days, or disability plates with attached emblems on both the front and rear of the vehicle. A placard or an equivalent certificate, insignia, or plate issued by another state, a foreign country, or one of its political subdivisions also is acceptable.

Even with proper identification, handicapped spaces can be used only when the person with the disability is with the vehicle. It’s common for non-handicapped drivers to use a placard granted to the authorized user, which is a crime, Mathwig said. Tags come with numbers that can be tracked through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Spaces reserved for handicapped parking must have a sign listing consequences that is visible from the driver’s seat. Just having paint markings on pavement is insufficient, Elder said.

Another reader asked if the person using a handicapped spot must patronize the establishment near the parking space. The answer is no.