SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — Southaven Police have changed their parking ticketing policy after a Problem Solvers investigation into enforcement.

The Problem Solvers began looking into the issue and how it affected those who need accessible parking at Baptist DeSoto Hospital after getting a call from the husband of a lung cancer patient.

Shelia and Terrell Ferguson said they noticed many people violating rules requiring placards or license plate markers and they said the hospital security guard did not provide enforcement.

It got to the point they couldn’t find a place close enough for Shelia to comfortably get to the building.

“I got to looking around and I said, ‘What are these cars doing in here if they ain’t got no handicapped plate or sticker or nothing on the car. Why don’t the security guard do something about it?” Ferguson said.

He said he contacted the hospital, which sent a security guard.

“One guard did get out, got a red card out and wrote out, put a placard on his car. That was all he did. Went back the next day when she was up there, same thing again,” he said.

Advocates say this is a widespread problem that goes well beyond Baptist DeSoto. Carlene Leaper directs The Arc Mid-South, a nonprofit that works to empower individuals with developmental disabilities.

“People every day don’t have a place to park. I’m sure I can go in a store and come out and they’re still there and I have not seen a police officer,” Leaper said.

When Ferguson asked hospital representatives about next steps, security told him law enforcement wouldn’t do much, he said. That’s when he called the WREG Problem Solvers.

“I’d like for them to give them a ticket, enforce something,” he said.

Baptist officials told the Problem Solvers that security guards are only allowed to issue warnings; only police can issue tickets.

Next, the Problem Solvers went to Southaven Police and requested recent parking violations issued at the hospital.

That’s where we found a problem. In an email, Major Brent Vickers said Southaven Police were following rules from municipal court that they could not issue a parking violation to an unoccupied vehicle. Later in the email, he said they’re now working to get new guidance.

He soon followed up to say they got clarification and the Southaven Police Department had a new parking violation policy: officers can now ticket unoccupied vehicles.

One month into the new policy, Vickers said they’d issued 14 tickets city-wide, with four of those specifically being for accessible parking violations.

“I think it’s a good deal. I really do,” Ferguson said of the Southaven Police taking this step.

Leaper applauded the change.

“If you make an example out of a few people, you’ll make a huge difference,” she said.

Fines in Mississippi and Tennessee can be for $200, with punishments escalating for repeat offenders, she said. The tickets given out by Southaven Police in this instance were for $100, court officials said.

“More tickets, stricter enforcement, make sure they even follow up with that or have a place where store managers can call,” Leaper said.

When we checked back with Ferguson after the change, he felt encouraged.

“I think that’s gonna really help. I really do. Y’all done a great job on it. I’m glad you got the police department involved and talked to the hospital and they’re getting more conscientious on what’s going on,” he said.

Baptist officials said they are glad to have the additional support from Southaven Police and will escalate to them when necessary.