Distracted drivers, beware . . . We've all heard of RoboCop, but until this week I had never heard of a hobo cop. Then a pal called to report he heard plainclothes Winnipeg police officers had been spotted posing as panhandlers and patrolling the median in search of drivers picking up their cellphones while stopped at red lights.
At first, the report sounded plausible. The so-called hobo-cop sting has been going on for at least two years in some Canadian cities.
But Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel, the Winnipeg Police Service's commander of the Central Traffic Division, says it's not happening here. Riffel says it's too dangerous, and plainclothes officers don't have to be on the median to spot people on their cellphones.
In case you weren't aware, April is distracted-driving awareness month, and Manitoba Public Insurance is paying overtime for four officers to nab drivers who haven't figured out how dangerous it is to text or talk on a cell while behind the wheel. Undoubtedly, it was one of those officers in plainclothes who was spotted this week standing at a bus stop on McPhillips Street. NOT on the median.
Reportedly, he was dressed in jeans and a jacket and wearing a backpack, and the guy who offered me that description only noticed him because the bus-stop cop approached the passenger-side window of the car in front of him at a red light. Then, as my witness watched, the guy with the backpack flashed his badge and motioned for the driver to a place up ahead where uniformed officers were waiting to write up a distracted-driving ticket.
Sounds like basic procedure in these kinds of operations, the kind of tactic that helped tag some of the 1,800 Manitoba drivers caught last November using electronic devices while driving.
Then on Thursday, my informant posted news on his Facebook wall of another distracted-driving ticket being handed out, although this time he didn't see it happen.
He just wrote what he was told:
"Friend of mine just got a $203 ticket in the hobo-cop cellphone sting at a red light on Route 90. She just looked down at her phone and got a ticket. Time to put away the phone while driving... "
What he didn't mention was the two demerit points that goes with it.
His Facebook posting prompted two responses, both from female "friends."
"What's the difference between checking a printed map at a red light and looking at your phone at a red light?" wrote one. "Sorry, if your car isn't moving, I don't see the issue."
"Trust me," responded the second. "Nothing will work. You are not supposed to have it in your hand at all."
The first comment seems to suggest this kind of police operation is just another cash grab. I don't buy that.
Police estimate distracted driving kills 25 people a year in Manitoba.
I don't know what else there is to say, except, "Distracted drivers, beware."
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NOW THE TALE END: GARBAGE, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF GIVING... This week, I reported about the thousands of damaged garbage and recycling carts across the city that had to be replaced or repaired last year.
That prompted West Kildonan resident Bob Kuzak, among others, to respond with personal stories about trash-cart carnage: "If you saw how some of these guys thump these carts to the ground, you will understand why the wheels are breaking and falling off."
The almost 80-year-old said he used to see them in his back lane -- a driver and two helpers who lift and dump the carts by hand. Basically, what Bob witnessed was the lifters treating the garbage carts like garbage: "After watching them in action a few times, I went out and told them not to bang my carts down so hard."
But Bob did more than that.
Last summer he offered them cold drinks on hot days, and at Christmas, he gave them "a small monetary gift."
So, I asked Bob, did his display of kindness and show of respect to the garbage workers result in them treating his carts just as kindly and respectfully?
"Yes," he said.
Imagine how much less garbage would go on in the world if only everyone was as kind, respectful and smart as Bob Kuzak.