Hobo cop nabs dozens on cellphones
Ottawa Police Const. Dan Jesty disguised himself as a homeless man to nab drivers talking on cellphones Thursday, April 19, 2012. Cops doled out more than 70 $155 tickets in just two days as part of the Safer Roads Ottawa program. (TONY SPEARS/Ottawa Sun/QMI AGENCY)
The man is down-at-heels and ragged like the cardboard sign he clutches.
He shuffles along the pavement on Chamberlain Ave. at Bank St. and peers into cars, sunlight warming the plaid shirt he wears over a dark-blue hoodie and camouflage pants.
Spurning outstretched arms bearing loose change, the man shambles over to another car, with closed windows.
He taps gently but the driver is on an important phone call and gestures to the down-and-out to make himself scarce.
The man taps again, more insistently.
And all at once several things leap into focus:
His blue trainers, for instance, are suspiciously clean.
What looks like a two-way radio peeps out from folds of plaid.
And most homeless people do not hold cardboard signs identifying themselves as members of the Ottawa Police.
"My name is Constable Jesty," the sign says. "If you are on a cellphone, you are about to get a ticket."
And then, impishly: "God bless."
"People always change their driving habits around police officers," explained Sgt. Al Ferris, who alerts nearby uniformed cops to violators whom Dan Jesty has flagged.
"We're trying to make attempts to see the actual true driver. ... This morning we have a unique way of trying to capture that."
Ferris and Jesty are busy men on Thursday -- the third day police have been busting drivers who won't put down their phones -- nailing about 10 drivers in less than an hour of work.
Distracted drivers are "endangering the public," Ferris said.
After 5 1/2 hours of enforcement over the first two days of this wing of the Safer Roads program, cops doled out 71 tickets at $155 a pop, Ferris said.
Their approach is new to Ottawa, but Ferris freely admits they stole the idea from other law enforcement.
In Florida, for instance, cops used a fluffy Easter Bunny costume to seek out seatbelt violators.
But the ruse did not sit well with Jill Young, who works nearby.
"I would have (preferred) he was the Easter Bunny," she said. "You don't have to put on this facade of being homeless."
Three real homeless men regularly use that sidewalk to solicit funds, she said, and the sight of a young and apparently incompetent panhandler brought her outside with money and fruit.
"I go out with this stupid clementine orange and $5 -- and he's a cop," Young said.
"It just doesn't sit right with me."