Ottawa police are using an unconventional method to crack down on drivers using handheld devices behind the wheel.
Officers have been patrolling intersections dressed as panhandlers to catch unsuspecting drivers as they break the law by using their phones.
“I mimic panhandling at the corner,” said Cst. Dan Jesty. “It gets me in close to the vehicles. I can look inside to see if they’re talking on a cell phone or texting on a cell phone.”
Part of the costume is a cardboard sign. Instead of asking for change though, the sign identifies the officer as a member of the police force.
Once the disguised officer catches a distracted driver, they radio partners in nearby patrol cars who then pull the driver over.
“If you have a police officer standing in full uniform and a cruiser well you’d probably never pick up a person,” said Jesty. “Blend in with the public, people feel at ease and the first thing they do is pick up that cell phone.”
Drivers who were stopped in the operation had mixed reactions to the disguise.
“All I can say is it is clever,” said driver Daniel Lachance. “I can’t say anything else. They caught me. There it is. And here I am.”
Others though were angered by the tactic. Allison Boyles said she was frightened when someone who she thought was a stranger approached her vehicle.
“In that moment, I reached for my phone hoping that sends a message to somebody approaching my vehicle,” she said.
Boyles plans on disputing her ticket in court.
Ottawa police have caught 97 people for distracted driving since they began the undercover campaign on Monday. They’ve also issued 18 tickets for seatbelt violations.