STOW — Insensitive lawbreakers and appreciative drivers are the motivating forces behind the hundreds of citations police officer Timothy Reiheld has handed out to people who illegally park in handicap-designated spaces.
"I was so inspired to write so many because (of) how many handicapped people would come up and talk to me while I was out writing them,” he said. “And they would thank me for it, and then say, 'You wouldn't believe how many people yell stuff at us, like, if you just lost some weight … you wouldn't be handicapped.' And so they really appreciated it, and it really inspired me for a long time to write so many tickets.”
Reiheld was recognized during a recent Stow City Council meeting with a resolution thanking him for his work on the issue, which included writing 685 of the city’s 1,342 citations, or 51 percent, between 2004 and 2015.
According to Stow law, violators can be fined between $250 and $500, and their car can be towed.
Council president and Ward 1 representative Matt Riehl said for many years, the city “didn't have the best record of enforcing this law."
In 2000 and 2001, the police department issued one citation each year.
"Officer Reiheld kicked us into gear starting in 2004,” when he started focusing on enforcing Stow’s handicapped parking law, Riehl said.
In 2004, Reiheld issued 90 of the police department’s 114 citations. In 2006, he issued 77 of the department’s 84 citations — nearly 92 percent. And in the following years, he issued more than 100 citations a year.
"What he has done encapsulates the two things that we care about: protecting the rights of people with disabilities and enforcing the law,” Riehl said.
And Reiheld wasn’t just writing parking tickets. In many cases, he found additional crimes, ranging from outstanding warrants and driving under suspension to thefts in progress and using a dead person’s permit. Riehl said Reiheld even discovered permits being sold illegally at local flea markets.
The work was in addition to Reiheld’s typical duties as a Stow police officer. Stow Police Captain Bryan Snavely said officers are encouraged to find a “niche,” something they like to do in addition to their regular police work.
Snavely said Reiheld chose handicapped parking enforcement as his passion, something he called a “noble and worthy cause.”
"Sometimes, you just find it is a valid handicap person who just didn't have the placard hung, but it takes going and finding out,” Snavely said. “Officer Reiheld's been proactive with that, and we encourage that of all of our officers, but he's been an example to follow in this regard."
Council members and city officials thanked Reiheld for his work.
"I'm not usually a big fan of tickets, but until you've had a family member that becomes handicapped or is handicapped and in need of those spaces and is confined to a wheelchair or some other handicap … the average person doesn't think about the impact of that,” said Ward 3 councilman Brian Lowdermilk.
Mayor John Pribonic, who was ceremonially sworn in at last week's meeting, also commended Reiheld.
"It goes to show you the respect that our city has,” Pribonic said. “Hopefully this will also make people more aware that we do have a huge respect like this here in the city of Stow.”
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.