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Every ticket tells a story in Saugus

SAUGUS – Stephen Sweezey isn’t a story teller, he’s a story listener.As the town’s sole parking ticket hearings officer, Sweezey spends Mondays at Town Hall explaining the dos and don’ts of state law to often unhappy motorists clutching citations costing up to $300 each.”I was a police officer in Saugus for 33 years so I’ve heard all the stories before, but people have the right to appeal,” he said, as he sat ensconced behind a desk in a compact room off the lobby.”If it’s their first offense, I try to cut them some slack. But if somebody has been caught parking in a handicapped space for the third time, well, that’s a different matter.”Sweezey holds an average 20-30 hearings per week. If Monday falls on a holiday, the hearings are held Tuesday.According to Sweezey, parking in a space reserved for the handicapped is probably the most egregious offense and punishable by the stiffest fine. Enforcement was more problematic prior to 2001, when the state Legislature enacted a significant change in the way handicapped driver placards are issued. The placards previously had no expiration date.”People treated them like gold. They were handed down through the generations whether or not anybody in the family was actually handicapped,” he said.That there were too many handicapped placards in use became evident when the number of complaints from handicapped drivers unable to find a space escalated exponentially.”The calls went way up. These people were circling round and round the parking lot like a drain but not finding a space to park. All the handicapped ones were taken,” Sweezey said. “Meantime you had more and more placards being issued, due to the graying of American society.”As Sweezey put it, members of the Baby Boomer generation began entering their golden years, many with health issues causing them to seek placards for handicapped parking privileges.”Something had to be done, so the placards now have expiration dates. You have to renew them every few years. Some people don’t know that and when they come in here with a ticket for parking in a handicapped zone, they’re holding a placard that’s no good,” he said. “I also get a lot of cases where the person claims they have a placard but left it home while shopping or forgot to display it when they parked.”Not all excuses are so basic,”We get calls from 75-year-olds who say they can’t find a handicapped space. They’ve been driving around the lot for half an hour and nothing gets them angrier than seeing a car with no placard parked in a handicapped spot, or watching a 26-year-old jump out of his Jaguar after parking in one,” he said. “We had a doctor come in, claiming he had gotten a page on his cell phone and pulled into the handicapped space so that he could make a call. He wasn’t in the car when he got tagged. He said his cell phone had died and that he went into a store to use the phone.”Sweezey chuckled.”We had him on camera parking in that space. Earlier that day, he had parked in another handicapped space. We got that one on camera, too,” he said.It’s hard to argue with a photograph.”We get people who come in ready to swear on a stack of Bibles they didn’t park in an illegal spot. Then I show them the picture on the computer,” he said.He noted the town employs two parking enforcement officers who use hand-held citation devices that transmit a photo from the scene to Jackie Howard, the town parking clerk. “A lot of people still don’t know our officers take pictures.”Miffed motorists inclined to rip up a ticket will have a hard time doing so in Saugus.The new tickets are made of plastic and nearly impossible to tear.Can’t burn them, either, said Sweezey, holding up a ticket somewhat blackened from flame.”They’re virtually indestructible,” he said.When Sweezey retired as a lieutenant from the Police Department and took over as parking ticket hearings officer in 2009, the town was just switching over to the hand-held ticketing devices.”There was a backlog of over 3,000 tickets, s

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