Herbert Williams looked a little embarrassed. He had just been caught using a handicap parking placard that wasn't his.
"He says it belongs to his 90-year-old mother," said Andy Srebroski, an investigator for the state Motor Vehicle Administration who was part of a team cracking down on such violations yesterday at Gay and Front streets in downtown Baltimore.
Srebroski confiscated the blue placard and told Williams his mother would have to come down to the MVA and pick it up. He was lucky not to get a ticket.
"I ain't mad," said Williams, an elderly Randallstown resident who said he was a counselor. "I do have a disability, but I don't have a card."
With that, he put $5 worth of coins into the parking meter next to his car, an act he would have been able to avoid had the placard been issued to him and not his mother.
A handicap placard allows drivers to park for free in a metered spot or in a space, commonly marked in blue, that is reserved for the disabled.
The daylong crackdown by city and state officials on what was called Disabilities and Parking Awareness Day took place at some 15 locations in the city, including Charles Village, Good Samaritan Hospital, the University of Baltimore on Mount Royal Avenue, Mondawmin Mall, Reisterstown Road Plaza and The Rotunda.
By early afternoon, law enforcement officers had confiscated 14 placards - also called hang tags - towed three cars and issued 16 citations, according to Buel Young, an MVA spokesman.
"In Baltimore City and other areas, there's a constant problem with handicapped people not being able to park where they need to," said Sidney Hyatt, the MVA's assistant manager of investigations, who was observing the crackdown downtown that started at 7 a.m. "There are people abusing handicap placards and people using stolen ones."
Hyatt and his colleague Srebroski said there had been a rash of such thefts in recent weeks, although they could not say how many permits were missing. People using such placards or special license plates illegally face a $202 citation in Baltimore, although most of the people caught yesterday got away with warnings.
"I was nice to her," Srebroski said of a woman he had just spoken with who was found to be using her sister's placard. "I told her she had to get out and pay the meter."
The woman, who declined to be identified, told Srebroski she was in the process of applying for her own handicap placard, although it was not clear what her disability was.
Another woman, after parking her beige Honda and displaying a temporary red placard - as opposed to the usual blue - acknowledged that the permit was not in her name but told Srebroski she had "just dropped off" the card's actual owner. Not good enough, she was told: The placard's owner must be in the car for the permit to be used legally.
The woman persisted. Addressing Hyatt, she brandished a cell phone and offered to put him in touch with the man she said owned the placard.
"No," Hyatt said. "I don't know who he is. It could be anyone."
Srebowski marveled at the lengths to which people go to avoid paying something as small as a parking meter fee.
"What are they going to do, save half a dollar, or a dollar?" Srebroski asked. "Anything to save a dollar, I guess."
Ken Strong, chief of the Safety Division of Baltimore's Department of Transportation, recalled a friend, a college professor, who was left disabled after an accident and must get around in a wheelchair.
"He hooks his chair to the back of his van, and he'll get it down himself," Strong said. "But if he doesn't have that space that's reserved for people with disabilities, he can't get to his appointments, to his classes. He needs his spot."