Cops dress as panhandlers to spy if drivers are wearing seat belts or using cell phones.
On a warm July day, police officers dressed in civvies and stationed themselves at two intersections. One, according to a press account, at the intersection of Highway 210 and Arden and this one, Highway 210 at Waterman Avenue in the City of San Bernardino.
As you can see from the photo above, this is a typical spot for panhandlers. Even Google Street View captured one as it buzzed by to take this photo in 2014. So it was no big surprise when drivers may have spotted this guy when they got off the highway:
Wait, what did that sign say again?
I AM NOT
I’ll bet a steak dinner that unsuspecting drivers, who usually ignore the signs of panhandlers who occupy off ramps and intersections because they’re mostly scam artists, didn’t even bother to look at the sign. Even if they had, it would have been difficult to read the scribbled eye chart, ‘if-you-can-read-the-last-line-you-have-20/20-vision’-style sign.
The officers’ objective was to pretend to notify people of their sting without actually doing it, in order to catch people driving without seat belts or using their cell phones.
According to the Press Enterprise (which, by the way, changed its first headline and story from the sting op to touting the story as one about a ‘study’), the officers would observe the cockpits of the cars and trucks as they exited the highway to determine if drivers were wearing seat belts or using cellphones and radio ahead to other cops with a description of the scofflaw.
According to the PE:
At the end of the day, 50 vehicles were stopped, and 33 people were cited for cellphone violations.
In a recent study of traffic of Waterman Avenue, there were 10, 371 daily trips in one section alone and that did not include ingress and egress of a state highway. This is another way of saying that 33 people cited for cellphone violations is a statistical nothing-burger.
However, it wasn’t nothing for the drivers and passengers of 50 vehicles to be stopped and hassled by police who apparently had nothing better to do that day than dress up as homeless people and harass otherwise law abiding citizens.
There will be people outraged, I’m sure, by the tone of this piece. The ‘how dare you, Victoria’ crowd who have heard of the horrible accidents caused by drivers using cell phones or heard about severe injuries suffered by those who didn’t use their seat belts. I’ll stipulate some of the horrible stories and stupid people using cell phones while driving. I’ve heard it all before after talking and writing about cell phone laws for years now.
Yes, it’s illegal to use your cell phone and drive, but it shouldn’t be.
Since I’ve done this all before I’ll just quote myself from this story about the bogus statistics about cell phones and accidents:
Early on statisticians used the fact that cell phones were present in cars as ‘proof’ they were complicit in a crash.
Then came the evidence that hands free cell phone use was no safer than holding a cell phone. Studies showed it was the act of talking that was the distracting aspect. What to do? Like the folks who morphed “man made global warming” into “climate change,” safety poohbahs conflated the parade of horribles from cell phones and driving under an umbrella label called, “Distracted Driving.”
The demonization of cell phones persists, of course. I mean, hundreds of lawmakers can’t be proven wrong, can they? A recent study purported to claim that cell phone use is worse than drunk driving.
Now there’s another study showing that talking to your kids in the back seat is a distraction.
And then there’s this study:
Carnegie Mellon/London School of Economics study confirms cell phone chatting and driving don’t increase chances of car accidents, unless you’re a moron, that is.
Researchers say they’re surprised by the results of their own study of U.S. data which shows there’s no correlation between chatting away on cell phones and driving.
You want to see distracted driving? Cell phone use while driving? Not wearing seat belts while driving? Check out a cop sometime.
A 2013 study found half the cops don’t wear seat belts. Many cities install computers for cops to use while talking on their cell phones or two-ways while driving. Watch sometime.
I don’t blame them. They probably think these are stupid laws, too.
But when you have to resort to tactics like these to punish people for disobeying a law whose usefulness is at best suspect, you’ve lost the moral high ground. In short, you’ve lost the argument in favor of such laws.