- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The first thing noticeable about Jerry Lepore is his walk - straight and precise, like the march of the military security officer he’d been for more than two decades.

He wears a crisp tan uniform and ball cap with emblems from the Jacksonville’s Disabled Services Division. He also carries the most used ticket book among the 20 active volunteers who nab able-bodied motorists when they ignore handicap parking signs peppered around shopping centers and other area businesses.

Lepore, 66, describes his work as a calling spurred by the memories of a childhood friend who became crippled in an accident at a time when there were few accommodations made for the disabled.

“It aggravates me to see people breaking the law by flagrantly taking away parking spots from somebody who . truly needs it,” Lepore said. “It’s just being lazy and being all about themselves.”

Volunteers take a two-day course learning the laws for handicap parking and other civil violations, such as having expired tags. The unarmed volunteers write tickets primarily in large parking lots including Wal-Marts and Home Depots and testify in court upon appeal.

In the past year, volunteers have written more than 3,000 tickets - over 80 percent are linked to disabled parking issues - generating $675,000 in revenue, records show. Lepore has written nearly 560 tickets valued at more than $112,000. The highest fines include $250 for illegally parking in disabled spots marked by the blue-and-white signs.

Lepore’s military career included guarding a U.S. Air Force base in Vietnam and Air National Guard bases after 9/11. The retired master sergeant also worked as a civilian in the collections department at Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

He began volunteering for the Disabled Services Division in 2009 after meeting another volunteer at the American Legion Post 137 in Lakeshore, where Lepore is a past post commander. He scans parking lots on the Westside on weekdays and weekends, always in the daytime and at his leisure.

He said the primary goal is to educate the public on the law. He said he usually doesn’t write tickets for disabled violations if he finds the drivers and they’re willing to move. It takes him about two minutes to write one for an empty vehicle.

Lepore said some volunteers have been threatened with violence and had tickets thrown at them. He said his worst run-in was with two teens who cussed at him, causing him enough concern to walk away.

“We’re not allowed to carry weapons of any kind with the exception of our common sense,” Lepore said. “If I see something that doesn’t feel right, I walk away. I’m not putting myself at risk when I have no way of defending myself.”

Lepore’s supervisor, Clinton Hamilton, described him as a meticulous professional who has never received a complaint.

“He is an outstanding, caring individual who has a sense of duty for what he’s doing,” Hamilton said. “He is second to none.”

Lepore said he writes an average of 30 to 40 tickets a month, but more during the holidays.

“You see a lot of abuse at that time because when they find an open spot, they’ll pull in and take advantage of whatever spot they can find,” Lepore said.

Lepore said while some people may see him as Grinch, most appreciate the work he does. That includes James Lightfoot, 67, as he recently watched Lepore do his work outside a Westside Wal-Mart.

Lightfoot and his son are both disabled. He said people routinely violate the laws meant to protect them.

“Those spots are for special people who actually need them,” Lightfoot said.

Lepore couldn’t agree more.

___

Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, https://www.jacksonville.com

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