The Garden City Police Department conducted its nighttime seat belt enforcement program Thursday night near the intersection of Kansas Avenue and Third Street and the way in which it was conducted raised some questions by residents.
The Kansas Department of Transportation provides a grant to law enforcement, allowing additional officers to be placed on the streets of Garden City to enforce the safety belt use and child passenger safety acts.
On Thursday night, as part of routine seat belt enforcement conducted by law enforcement, a City truck was parked in one of the westbound lanes of Kansas Avenue, where a police officer dressed as a city worker observed passing traffic to determine whether or not seat belts, and where applicable, child safety restraints were being utilized.
As the officer determined that proper restraints were not being used, he radioed patrol officers stationed a couple of blocks west of the intersection, who would then pull the offending drivers over.
On Friday, GCPD Sgt. Michael Reagle confirmed that the man dressed as a city worker was in fact, a police officer and that he was observing vehicles for proper restraints and then radioing ahead to patrol officers.
While being conducted Thursday, the method used by the GCPD prompted mixed reaction from residents. One resident, who lives near the Third and Kansas intersection, called in a tip about it to The Telegram. While she wouldn't share her name, she said she was outraged by the tactic.
Derek Releford, Garden City, said that he and some friends drove by the spot where the city truck was parked, and eventually parked nearby to watch what was going on.
"We drove by it three times and, at first, I thought it was someone getting pulled over and then I saw the utility truck and I thought that was kind of weird, and then we drove back and I noticed the guy didn't have a utility belt and there was no ladder and he was just kind of standing there. And then the third time I drove by, I noticed he was staring into vehicles pretty hard-core, staring right into vehicles, and then every once in awhile, he would talk into his wrist, like a CIA agent or something. So I was just like, 'that's weird.' It was just kind of weird seeing that. I don't remember the police ever doing anything like that. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention but it seemed like a new tactic," Releford said, adding that he questioned the legality of the tactic.
Reagle said that the method is, in fact, legal.
"With the grant-funded campaign, we are asked to use a variety of methods to enforce the safety belt laws," he said.
Releford said he thought that parking the city truck on a busy street like Kansas Avenue was unsafe.
"To me, it could be potentially dangerous because I noticed the flashing lights 10 blocks away and you know, it's dark and it's busy out and I spent a lot of time looking at those lights instead of looking at the road, so if there wasn't any problem with the electricity or anything, there really shouldn't be a big eye sore in the middle of the road that's going to cause a bunch of rubber-necking and could potentially cause accidents," he said.
Despite his disagreement with the GCPD's tactic, Releford said he is very much for seat belt usage.
"I got in an accident when I was 16 with a friend of mine. I was in the passenger seat, I wasn't wearing a seat belt and it resulted in minor plastic surgery on my face and I could have died, so I usually always put my seat belt on unless I just completely forget it, but for the most part, I do think that everyone should be wearing their seat belts," he said. "Even though I don't agree with the way the police went about it, I do applaud it. I applaud the GCPD because I thought it was very cunning, if that's the right word. I liked their style, I guess."
Deb Fief, Garden City, said that she didn't see anything wrong with the tactic. She said that she too, was in a traffic accident in which she was severely injured.
"The thing is, I've been in a car accident in a head on and I wasn't wearing my seat belt and I suffered blunt force trauma and permanent injury to my hip and other injuries that affected my life. And the thing is that whether it's a law or not, it's just smart to wear your seat belt," Fief said. "My theory on the whole thing is, if you're following the law you don't have anything to worry about."
According to a press release from the GCPD, as a result of the program, officers made 74 traffic stops, issued 68 seat belt citations and three child restraint citations.
In addition to the safety restraint citations, officers cited and released two individuals for no proof of insurance and made six arrests for charges including no valid driver's license, driving while suspended, interference with a law enforcement officer, no proof of insurance and municipal warrants.