Don't park there

By WEEK Producer

November 23, 2012 Updated Nov 23, 2012 at 9:24 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- It's not your imagination. Parking is at a premium this time of year.

Finding a spot close to the door wasn't easy Friday morning at Northwoods Mall. Shopper Joanna Sullivan-Wright is thankful the state issued her a placard to hang from her mirror allowing her to park in a handicapped space whenever she travels with her 91-year-old mother Margaret.

"Mom can only last maybe an hour, so instead of having to park far away and then come and pick her up it gives her a little sense of independence that she can still walk to her car," Joana explained.

But not every car parked in a handicapped spot is there legally.

That's why this weekend, investigators from the Illinois Secretary of State's office are teaming up with local law enforcement to crack down on people who park illegally in handicapped spots.

One of the most common violations is people who use a handicapped placard that was issued to someone else.

"I've seen people use placards belonging to family members and the family member has been diseased," said Investigator Joe Foster of the Secretary of State police, "as well as a brother or sister or a grandparent. Also I've confiscated fraudulent placards, somebody just made them up."

The fine for such an offense can range as high as $500 and in some cases, it can result in a suspended license.

Foster was patrolling at Northwoods Mall for only about an hour when he discovered a woman using her grandmother's placard. Only her grandma wasn't with her.

And, she tried to drive off after getting caught.

"I've written three to four citations during a shift," Foster said. "You go up to Chicago where there are bigger malls, a lot more people and traffic, you might get a few more violations. But three to four here, that seems like a pretty good day.

Or a bad day if you're an offender.

A year ago police issued more than 180 citations statewide for illegal handicapped parking between Black Friday and the end of December.