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Sign-holding officers seek to cut down on texting and driving
Gainesville Police aiming to reduce crashes
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Gainesville Police Cpl. Drew Reed stands on the corner of E.E. Butler and Jesse Jewell parkways looking for distracted drivers Tuesday. Reed held a sign indicating police presence while notifying officers in marked cars when motorists drove through the intersection without wearing seatbelts or were texting while driving. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Holding cardboard signs along E.E. Butler and Jesse Jewell parkways, Jessica Van and Drew Reed weren’t looking for money.

The two Gainesville Police corporals in plain clothes were looking for unclicked seatbelts and cellphones in hand.

Starting this week, officers out of uniform will be looking for distracted driving and communicate it to uniformed officers in the area. Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said there are no set times and dates.

“Looking at our overall numbers, we’re specifically targeting high-crash corridors or areas that we see an increase in crashes,” Holbrook said.

The focus around 4 p.m. Tuesday was the intersection of E.E. Butler and Jesse Jewell parkways. Holbrook said 32 percent of all accidents in the city this month were in the E.E. Butler Parkway and Green Street area. The area also accounted for 41 percent of injuries in the same timespan.

“We’re just trying to think outside of the box on this, trying to come up with something that we can reduce crashes in the city,” said Lt. Tommy McElroy, who works in Gainesville Police’s specialized services division.

Van and Reed announced their identities with cardboard signs reading, “Gainesville Police officer looking for seatbelt and cellphone texting violations.”

“Following too closely is typically always the No. 1 cause or leading factor in crashes,” Holbrook said.

The corporals spotting a violator can then radio the details of the suspected violator to uniformed officers in the area.

After two hours at the intersection, Van said she saw a mixed response from drivers who noticed her holding the cardboard sign. Violations like cellphone usage often resulted in other violations like running the red light, she said.

“Some people were so engaged with their phones that they didn’t even really pay me attention,” Van said.

The idea, Holbrook said, came from monthly meetings where the department addresses crime statistics and ways to combat it.

“We have to get creative in order to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities, and that’s the No. 1 goal of this,” Holbrook said.

The areas and times when the tactic will be implemented are unknown, but these same plain-clothes officers may show up in construction areas with yellow vests, Holbrook said.

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