Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, conducted a sting operation involving an officer posing as a homeless man to catch motorists violating state texting laws.
Montgomery County Police Cpl. Patrick Robinson stood disguised as a homeless man in an intersection in Bethesda, Maryland, on Oct. 27, to catch drivers sending text messages on their phones while stopped at the intersection.
Robinson was dressed in shabby clothes and sunglasses, and carried a sign that read, "I am not homeless. I am a Montgomery County Police Officer looking for cell phone texting violations."
The undercover police officer also wore a wireless microphone to communicate with uniformed officers parked farther down the road. When he saw someone texting, he would describe the violator's vehicle or give license plate numbers to the parked officers, who would then go pull over the driver and issue a citation, Bethesda Magazine reported.
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Robinson, who was also looking for drivers who did not have their seatbelts fastened, carried a hidden camera to record alleged violators as evidence for possible court cases.
Police issued 56 tickets and 22 warnings during the two-hour sting operation, which ended around 9:30 a.m. Of these, 31 tickets and nine warnings were issued for using a cellphone while driving and four tickets and four warnings were for texting.
Robinson said about 20 percent of the drivers he spotted that morning were distracted by some kind of device.
"I've spotted over 30 [violators] in an hour," he said as he stood by the side of the road during the operation, Bethesda Magazine reported.
Sending text messages or holding phones while driving are considered primary traffic offenses in Maryland. Fines for using handheld devices range from $83 to $160, while texting violators receive a $70 fine and a point on their driver's license.
Robinson said the police had been doing similar weekly operations in other parts of the county. To date, the police have done two separate details at that particular intersection, which each resulted in about 50 tickets being issued, according to Montgomery County Police Capt. David Falcinelli.
Earlier in the same week, police conducted another sting operation in the same part of Bethesda to catch drivers who didn't stop for school buses as required by state law.