Panhandling cop has surprise message for B.C. drivers

Most drivers on the lookout for police as they surreptitiously use their cell phones would scarcely give him a second glance.

The man dressed in a hooded jacket and baseball cap, holding a cardboard sign at a busy Chilliwack, B.C. intersection looks like he's asking for money. And in a way he is.

As the Chilliwack Times reports, Const. Bryan Martell adopted the guise of a panhandler last Saturday during a creative police blitz to bust illegal cell phone use while driving.

In lieu of a message soliciting donations, however, Martell's sign said something a little more direct. Drivers close enough to pass him by in their vehicles would instead run their eyes over this message: "Hello, my name is Constable Martell. If you're on your cellphone right now, you are about to get a ticket."

Saturday's blitz resulted in 21 tickets and dozens more verbal warnings, according to Chilliwack police Cpl. Lee Dyson.

"It was an enhanced enforcement program through traffic services to focus on enforcing distracted driving and intersection issues," he told the paper.

"It's effective, it's innovative and it's just a different way to go about doing it."

But it was Martell's surprising tactic that has had the more lasting effect. Photos of the officer donning his undercover disguise have spread across the Internet and garnered major attention in B.C. and Alberta.

In fact, the stunt seemed to lighten the blow for newly ticketed drivers.

"Giving people tickets, people usually aren't happy about it in any case, but in this, I think people found the humour in it partly, so they were less angry than they usually are getting a ticket," Martell said.

"It got the idea around that it's an issue that people still kind of ignore. They think it's not dangerous when really it is."

Although driving while using a handheld device has been banned across Canada, police have found that many drivers continue to flout the law. During a preemptive blitz in B.C.'s Lower Mainland last month, officers handed out nearly 4,500 tickets. As the article explains, that's nearly double the amount issued during the same period in January.

(Reuters photo)