BANGOR, Maine — Members of the Maine Disability Education Coalition on Monday presented Police Chief Ron Gastia with an award for service excellence recognizing his department’s ongoing efforts to address handicapped parking and access issues in Bangor.
Michael Noyes, a member of MDEC and the local handicapped rights advocacy group Alpha One, said the Bangor Police Department has been a thoughtful, responsive and understanding ally to city residents living with disabilities.
In accepting the award at Monday’s regular City Council meeting, Gastia praised Alpha One and the MDEC for being unbelievably cooperative in working with the Police Department to address concerns.
“I suspect that we’ll continue speaking about other issues in the future,” Gastia said.
The Maine Disability Education Coalition and Alpha One first approached the police chief in 2008 to see what could be done to crack down on handicapped parking violations.
“We were getting large amounts of complaints about handicap parking violations related to a variety of issues, from placard misuse to blocked access lanes,” said MDEC member Wanda Caron.
Handicapped parking violations are less prevalent in downtown Bangor because the city has regular parking patrols, but were a big problem in shopping areas. In some situations, motorists park in an access lane rather than an actual spot, which is just as problematic. That access area is used for a wheelchair lift, and when it’s blocked, the open handicapped spot doesn’t do any good.
For several months, disability advocates worked with Gastia and other city staff to create a plan to educate violators about laws that govern handicapped spaces and hold violators more accountable when necessary.
That plan, rolled out in early 2009, allowed some trained volunteers from the local Alpha One group to report violations to police. Gail Burrell of MDEC said it would have been easy for the Police Department to dismiss the concerns of a few residents, but Gastia didn’t let that happen.
“[They] listened to our concerns and comments with a genuine desire to improve relations with the disabled community,” she said.
City Council Chairman Richard Stone on Monday admitted that he had to do some research before Monday’s council meeting to find out who Alpha One was.
“I was impressed,” he said. “Everyone I called had nothing but good things to say about what you do.”