The following letter is in response to an April 1 item in which I questioned the propriety of the Nissan Pavilion, or any other group, "renting" county police officers to provide security and traffic control.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I would like to discuss the Prince William County Police Department's relationship with Nissan Pavilion and your philosophy regarding off-duty officer use.

Your characterization of "rented" officers becoming accountable to the people who rent them may apply in some circumstances, but your conclusion that most police operations that are funded by private enterprises are inappropriate is troubling.

I suspect I share some of your concerns about off-duty work but am equally confident most area police departments have policies and practices in place that prevent the unethical and potentially illegal conduct that we condemn.

Likewise, I am confident that our Nissan operation is the most efficient and effective way to promote public safety associated with events there. While Nissan pays the salary and equipment costs for policing events, police operations there are directly under the control of the Prince William County Police Department. A police lieutenant and appropriate number of supervisors are on-site and in command of police activities at each event.

Nissan pays the cost, but the chief of police retains the authority to determine the number of officers needed, and officers assigned there operate under police command.

Charlie T. Deane

Police chief

Prince William County

It's not every day I get a letter from a chief of police. I'm honored. And I'm glad for this information and for your being open to discussion on the matter.

I have some questions:

* What prevents other organizations, or individuals, from renting police officers to serve private gain?

* When county police officers, paid by Nissan, are controlling traffic exiting Nissan Pavilion onto Route 29, who is representing the through traffic? Isn't it human nature that the "Nissan" officers will bend over backward to serve the people who are paying them?

* Why not have Nissan Pavilion handle its security needs with its own security officers? Leave traffic control to Prince William police officers paid by the county, not Nissan Pavilion.

* Are there other nongovernment organizations or individuals with ongoing arrangements to pay for Prince William County police officers?

How about you, folks? Any questions to add to the list? Or comments? I'll collect them and put all our questions to Deane, then report the answers.

Handicap Parking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the complaint about seemingly healthy drivers parking in parking spots reserved for people with disabilities [Dr. Gridlock, May 13], I was wondering if the writer was complaining about me.

He wouldn't have seen me walk "briskly," but I don't have any apparent disabilities. I do have lung disease and kidney disease and have had a medication-caused stroke.

I can't walk very far without falling down; I lean on the cart in the store. A guy in the wheelchair is probably far more mobile than I am.

But the apparently healthy people using cars with handicap license plates may very well be quite healthy and still legally park in a handicap spot.

In Virginia and other states, as far as I know, a handicap license plate allows anyone using that car to park in a handicap spot, even if there is nobody in the car who has a disability.

The hangtags are issued to individuals, and only cars with the specific individual in them are allowed to use handicap parking spots. I think that is more fair -- that the parking aid should be tied to the individual rather than the car.

Marilee J. Layman

Manassas

Virginia law requires the person with a disability to be in the vehicle that has handicap license plates or a placard.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You mention that appearances can be deceiving: that a person with heart problems and cancer might not appear to have a disability. One could add the multiple sclerosis patient, who might be having a "good day" and can briskly walk into a store.

Watch that same person a day or two later, when fatigue and heat affect the walk: The brisk walk becomes almost a challenge of effort, possibly even with a cane or a walker.

Judith McConnell

Manassas

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Perhaps more than any other traffic-related issue, handicap parking is my biggest pet peeve.

As a person living with muscular dystrophy who refuses to have a handicap tag out of a silly sense of pride, I read with interest your reply to this issue.

I agree with the writer who says that people who don't have an obvious disability should not be parking in those spaces.

The definition of disability has been stretched so thin that just about all of us have at least one. But the original purpose of those spaces was for people with mobility issues. I have chosen to do without the tag. But it still slays me to see a healthy horse jump out of a sports car and run into the store.

Your examples of the two biggest health concerns -- heart conditions and cancer -- don't necessarily warrant a handicap tag. If either of those conditions has progressed to a point that the person needs assistance with mobility, they would qualify and it would be visibly obvious. Anything short of that really should not be considered.

A co-worker/friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and recently participated in the three-day walk to end breast cancer. She walked 50 miles in three days.

I'm not sure if you are aware how easy it is for anyone to get a handicap tag. I've had doctors practically insist that I get one. I have two friends who have them because they are bipolar, which technically is a disability. And a co-worker has the tags because a parent has a disability. The co-worker doesn't even live with this parent but occasionally visits.

In addition, some temporary tags (that hang from the rearview mirror) are valid for three, four or even five years. The temporary condition could be long healed, but the person still displays the tag.

The system is broken. Making excuses for the "not so obvious" disabilities does not help. Unless a person needs assistance walking, he should not be in that space.

Ed Colantoni

Manassas

There is some confusion over who qualifies for handicap parking, and about the difference between hanging placards and license plates and who can use each, so I've consulted Marcia Meredith, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Here's what she says:

A person who wants to qualify for handicap parking status must fill out a DMV form, Med10, available at branches and on the DMV Web site, www.dmv.state.va.us.

A doctor must certify the disability, whether permanent or temporary. Among the criteria the DMV stipulates to doctors is that the patient must have a condition that limits or impairs movement or the ability to walk, which can include heart or lung disease, or a condition that creates a safety concern, such as blindness, deafness or Alzheimer's disease. There are other conditions.

Once the form is filled out by the applicant and the doctor, the DMV will automatically issue the handicap tags or placard. The DMV, by law, cannot reject an applicant with a properly filled out form, Meredith said.

People with permanent disabilities may choose either a blue portable placard to hang from the rearview mirror or a handicap license plate. In either case, the person must be in the designated vehicle for it to occupy a handicap space.

Permanently disabled status expires in five years and must be renewed. Temporary placards, which are red, are good for six months. There are also green placards for institutional, nonprofit vehicles that transport people with disabilities.

Anyone who suspects the abuse of a handicap plate or placard can report the license plate to the DMV at 804-367-6602 and the agency will investigate, Meredith said.

My sense is that proper use is based on the honor system. I hope we are all being honorable.

Hard on SUVs

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I do not understand why people are so hard on SUVs, calling them behemoths or oversize trucks. I do not own an SUV, but for those who do, it is a freedom of choice to own the type of vehicle they desire.

As far as parking in a parking lot, it is on a first-come, first-park basis, and park where you choose to park.

I do not like parking between SUVs and trucks or beside cars in which people swing the doors all the way out to exit or enter, thus slamming the car doors into other people's cars. I try to park in an area that is not congested, even if it means parking farther out.

Instead of suggesting that SUV/truck drivers park "out there," why don't the complainers park "out there," or back into a parking space, or go to a space that has both spaces open and pull into the forward space so that they can pull forward when leaving?

That would make it much easier to leave a parking space, because you can see what is coming or going. It is your choice to park wherever you want to park.For the owners of SUVs and trucks, it's their choice, too.

Rosalie Goosby

Dale City

All in One

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Is there a way on The Washington Post's Web site to merge all your questions and answers for the week into one column? I know you zone different ways for each of the Extras, but it would be nice on the online site to have a consolidated column so that I don't have to read through multiple versions.

Rick Pike

Charles County

Bless your heart. I've sent your request over to the www.washingtonpost.com people, and I'll get back to you with the answer.

Carts and Shoppers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It is certainly true that, for a mere quarter deposit on a shopping cart, many "busy commuters would simply leave their cart in the parking lot, forfeiting the coin," as you suggested in your column of May 6.

The beauty of the system is that many arriving shoppers would be happy to corral a "free" cart and then earn a small profit by returning it to the proper place after use and collecting the deposit.

Or kids with a little free time might score some pocket change by rounding up abandoned carts and returning them to the nest.

Either way, the carts find their way off the lot and back to their proper location.

I've seen this system used in Wilmington, Del. A common occurrence there is for an arriving shopper to hand a quarter to a departing shopper in exchange for the cart that has just been emptied, bypassing the nesting and un-nesting process altogether.

Charles Luckett

Manassas

Makes sense. Thanks for the report.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding stores that rent shopping carts for a deposit, to be refunded when the carts are returned: Sure, a quarter is not much to some people. To others, it may cover the price of a candy bar. Kids may round up roaming carts just to collect those quarters. The problem of loose carts in the lot is solved either way.

Bob Weber

Purcellville

Better Place to Park

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to Steve Rothenberg's letter regarding parking space pilferers at Tysons Corner, I would like to suggest an option [Dr. Gridlock, May 13].

About two years ago, at Christmastime, an employee at one of the large department stores in the mall mentioned to me that rather than wait for a parking spot right in front of the store, which can be extremely frustrating, he heads up to the top floor of the parking garage, where he never has a problem finding a spot.

I've been doing it ever since, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Joseph E. Young

Alexandria

Less stress, too. Thank you for that tip.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.