Citizens cops on patrol for violations

June 17, 2008 5:49:43 PM PDT
Don't be surprised if the next person who writes you a warning ticket is a civilian on patrol. Private citizens in one part of Fort Bend County are teaming up with police to help catch people who break certain traffic rules.

The civilian "cops" are about to be writing parking tickets in parts of Sugar Land. Earlier this month, the Sugar Land City Council passed an ordinance allowing citizen volunteers to write parking citations. It did so after seeing a 23% increase in citations written during the first five months of this year versus the same time last year. That's a significant jump in the number of people busted for parking in handicapped spots illegally.

Citizen volunteers are now behind the wheel in marked cars looking for those parked illegally in handicapped parking.

"To us it's very important," said CAST volunteer Wendy Griffith. "To the community at large I would say that it's very important."

They're looking for handicapped placards or license plates. More than 30 citizen volunteers have not only gone through the citizen's police academy, but also been trained in the law and how to properly write the citations.

Within the next two weeks, police chief Steve Griffith says their training will be complete, something he says that will help police immeasurably.

"That means that I'm able to free up my officers' time and our officers are able to participate in more enforcement activities," he said.

The ordinance passed by the city council, grants the authority for the Community Assistance Support Team or CAST to write parking tickets of any kind. Right now Sugar Land wants them focusing solely on handicapped parking violations.

As far as why someone would volunteer their free time to do this, Griffith, who happens to be the wife of the city's police chief, says it's a way to give back to police.

"They give a lot to us, so I just wanted to get out and help them back," she explained.

And it's something that those who use handicapped parking are thankful for.

"Police are busy as it is," said Glenda Rothchild who supports the citizen ticket writing. "If you can take some of the burden off of officers and put it on citizens who are willing to do it, then yeah, I think it should be done."

The volunteers are not armed and are trained to avoid conflict with citizens. Right now they are only writing warnings, but in the next two weeks the citations will be the real deal.

If caught parking in a handicapped space illegally, you can be fined up to $1,000 and required to put in up to 50 hours of community service.

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