Police rewards backfire

Sunday, August 8, 2004

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City police in the Northland had a sweet idea for rewarding good drivers and promoting positive contacts between officers and citizens. Unfortunately, their good intentions were destined for a meltdown.

The Ice Cream Safety Program wasn't a day old before city officials received the first complaint. An officer stopped a motorist to compliment her for her driving and give her a coupon for free ice cream. Her response was to phone the city law office and report that the stop made her late for work. Attorneys advised police not to stop any more drivers.

It's a sad state of affairs when a citizen calls a lawyer because the police are being nice. But it's undeniable that drivers are conditioned to become disconcerted when a patrol car turns on the flashing lights.

Police wisely have decided on a more subtle approach. In the future, officers on the bicycle patrol will approach good drivers as they exit their vehicles. Motorists should be less apprehensive about that.

Another idea is to focus on teenagers, who respond well to rewards. Paul Burris, president of Partners for Highway Safety, said his Florida-based organization has been involved with programs in which police pulled over good drivers as they drove away from school.

"After a while, the kids were all wanting to get stopped," Burris said.

Adults appear less appreciative. Police should chalk this one up to experience. But courteous driving and mutual respect between the police and community are always goals worth pursuing.

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