Police in Prince George's County are cracking down on criminals who steal handicap parking placards and say it's a crime that offends the dignity of people with disabilities.
Police Chief Hank Stawinski announced Thursday that his department would target suspects who sell and buy the stolen placards.
“The stealing of disability parking placards is most egregious because of who the thieves are targeting," Stawinski said in a news release.
Officers recently recovered nearly a dozen stolen placards during a traffic stop and arrested 23-year-old Darius Tyson.
Police say Tyson took the placards from parked cars in Temple Hills, including a parking lot at a senior living facility.
Since last July, police have received reports of 192 placards stolen from parked cars. In the majority of those cases, the suspects smashed the victims' car windows, police say.
"Individuals who go and choose to prey on our disabled community, break window glass, cause tens of thousands of dollars of damage, and then seek to profit that's going to stop," Stawinski said in a news conference.
Mark Wade uses a walker to help him get around and he has a handicap placard in his car that allows him to park close to where he's going.
"It's very important because it's convenient. It gets me closer to a store or to a doctor's office," Wade said.
Police say the thieves are selling the placards for between $25 to $100.
"I think the shame should be on the person that buys it from the person," Wade said. "Knowing that they're stolen and stolen from someone who actually needs it. I think that's terrible."
It's a property crime that is expensive and inconvenient for the victims who have to replace car windows, miss work to deal with insurance claims and go without a placard until they can get a new one.
Stawinski said officers will begin enforcement by ensuring handicapped placards they see are not reported stolen. If a placard is found to be stolen, detectives will work to investigate who stole the placard and who may have acquired the stolen property.
Police are asking residents who use the placards to only have them on display when necessary and to put them away in a car console if they park in a spot that is not handicap-only.