Michigan State Police Pose As Panhandlers To Catch Drivers Not Wearing Seatbelts

July 03, 2018 - 12:56 pm

SOUTHFIELD (WWJ) - Michigan State Police troopers are posing as panhandlers as they patrol for drivers not wearing their seatbelts. 

At the corner of I-696 and Southfield Road in Southfield, a man wearing casual street clothes -- including a camouflage vest and straw hat -- holds a sign that reads: "Buckle up; seatbelts save lives."

The undercover officer is working as a spotter, according to police, looking out for seatbelt violators, as well as people who are texting while driving, turning on red, etc. When he spots a driver whom he believes is breaking the law, he will radio ahead to troopers in cars or on motorcycles a little ways up the road, describe the vehicle, and they will make a traffic stop.

Police say you should consider yourself warned. 

"They say that you have no excuse," reported WWJ's Zahra Huber, who spoke to MSP stationed at that corner, at around noon on Tuesday. "And even if you put (your seatbelt) on after he spots you, they are probably still going to ticket you because, guess what...he saw you already."

The spotters -- including Sgr. Stephen Borello, seen in the video above -- have been out since around 8:45 a.m. and will be out for the rest of the day.

Borello, who's part of the MSP Motorcycle Unit, said it's been a busy day so far, and he's not surprised.

"A lot of our motoring public does not see our motorcycles; they just think we're another motorcycle rider," he told Huber. "So we see a lot of the texting issues, the seatbelt, the road rage, the running the red lights, because they think no one's around -- versus when we're in the patrol car. People tend to driver a little bit nicer when they see the patrol car."

Borello said the spotters will also be in neighborhoods off the Southfield Freeway, including in Dearborn. 

Sterling Heights resident Bobby, who declined to give his last name, was on his way to work in Southfield when he noticed, but did not recognize, the undercover cop.

"I didn't think anything of it," he said. "I thought the hat looked a little new; it was a little weird...But I thought it was just some random guy."

This particular operation is part of a larger targeted enforcement effort ongoing this week on the Southfield Freeway, which includes troopers patrolling for speeders. 

MSP First Lt. Michael Shaw said the campaign, which began on Monday and will end Friday,  is in response to complaints from countless drivers who say they don't feel save traveling M-39. The first day of the stepped-up patrols netted 76 total violations -- 36 of them for speeding. Police said 19 verbal warnings were issued, and eight arrests were made.