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Volunteers help monitor disabled parking

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DEAN BAKER - Patrol members get ready to work in east Multnomah County. From left: Walter Hull, Peter Hundahl and Len Stanley.Retired high school teacher Walter Hull spent the past nine years building a cadre of 16 volunteers who patrol Portland’s suburbs to teach the public to respect disabled parking areas.

That may seem like a humble task. But Hull, an 81-year-old Korean War veteran, and men like Vietnam vets Peter Hundahl, 66, and Len Stanley, 72, take the job seriously.

“We’re in it to educate people,” said Hull, who is looking for another eight Disabled Parking Enforcement Volunteers to help with the job.

“Because we are out there, in these parking lots, in uniform, we deter break-ins, personal attacks and child and pet abuse due to locked doors and rolled-up windows,” Hull said. “We free up police officers to do other important jobs.”

Since September, the unpaid volunteers have logged 2,840 hours in the field, have checked 13,802 permits, and have written 597 tickets with a total projected bail of $118,890.

The parking volunteers teach people to keep areas accessible for everyone. Those who violate the parking areas are ticketed for $190, or up to $450 if they alter or abuse disabled parking tags.

This work isn’t casual. Hull works about 20 hours a week, and some other volunteers work that much, too.

In the 12 years since the group’s founding, the group has issued about 6,000 tickets, Hull said.

The group operates from a position of authority.

Retired police officers Stan and Clyde Harmon founded the group after lobbying the Oregon Legislature to give them legal status. Stan Harmon, who was shot and crippled by a drunken sniper in 1977, patrolled with them for years. He died in 2013. Clyde Harmon, although in ill health, is still a leader of the group.

Stanley retired from the Portland Police Bureau 13 years ago, after serving 31 years as an officer, and doing three tours in Vietnam. He served as a U.S. Marine for eight years, retiring as a staff sergeant.

Hundahl retired from the U.S. Army infantry as a sergeant first class. He served 33 years, including infantry service in Vietnam and as an instructor of Navy SEALs.

Hundahl likes interacting with drivers, he said. He was introduced to the parking patrol after noticing many able-bodied drivers parking in disabled spots. His wife, Barbara, had a knee replacement and has a disability permit.

“I get a lot of comments from people, who say ‘Thank you, we appreciate it,’ “ Hundahl said. “Others don’t like it when they get a ticket. They come up with a million reasons why they parked like that, and you come up against some irate people. But you keep your mouth closed, and don’t get in a long conversation.”

Folks who park in the disabled areas, and remain in the car, just get a warning if they move along, Stanley said.

“Education is our job,” he said. “If you get in a confrontation, you just walk away.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DEAN BAKER - Len Stanley photographs a violator to write a ticket while Walter Hull, right, looks on. Himself a disabled veteran, Stanley has had lung and prostate cancer and heart issues due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. He has a disabled permit that he uses at times. “I was irritated to see people using those parking spots, just because they feel entitled or because they are lazy.”

Hull, a U.S. Navy veteran, taught American government, economics, critical thinking and American foreign policy in high schools. He taught in Mitchell and Reedsport, Oregon, then in Redding, California, and finally in Portland and Milwaukie at Grant and Rex Putnam high schools.

He still teaches seniors a variety of subjects in independent living centers around the area.

“My grandfather told me something important,” Hull said with a laugh. “Don’t ever forget, Noah built the ark before it rained.”

So he has been working on this parking project to prevent conflicts, to keep the peace, and to ensure open accessibility in the suburbs. They don’t work in downtown Portland, where hired parking patrols do the work.

“We are a proactive unit,” Hull said. “We provide for the safety of others and save time for the police bureau. We save money for the taxpayers. We work for free.”

He said it isn’t so important to know how many dollars in fines are levied.

“The disabled parking patrol is a valuable resource for us to handle parking issues that wouldn’t get handled otherwise,” said Traffic Motor Division Sgt. Erin Smith of the Portland Police Bureau, the police liaison for the disabled patrol.

“They work on a volunteer basis and are self-motivated, and that helps us and the community without any expenses,” Smith said. “Without them, a lot of the work couldn’t get handled. Our parking patrol won’t go onto a private lot like a Safeway to handle disabled parking, but the disabled parking patrol will.”

“We do want to recruit new volunteers,” he said. “Just contact me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-656-3603.”

“We are about accessibility, not disability.”