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Police dress homeless { May 27 2003 }

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Yahoo! News Tue, May 27, 2003

Police, Dressed As Homeless, Give Tickets
Thu May 22, 7:25 AM ET Add AP - Feature Stories to My Yahoo!

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Homeless advocates are outraged by an operation where undercover police officers dressed as vagrants, observed drivers running red lights or committing other traffic violations, then radioed ahead to other officers who stopped those cars and wrote tickets.

"Operation Vagrant," a sting operation involving the Florida Highway Patrol, Kissimmee police and the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, nabbed 171 drivers most of whom ran red lights, a violation that carries an $83 fine.

Undercover deputies stood along streets and gave the indication they were vagrants by pushing shopping carts and wearing fake teeth and tattered clothing. They also carried small cardboard signs, which read, "Sheriff's traffic sting in progress. Buckle up."

"It's kind of appalling," said Marilyn Gordon, executive director of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida. "I wonder if it will be a consciousness-raising exercise for the law-enforcement officers."

Robert H. Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, said the officers were being silly.

"It's ironic that they would use a disguise of someone that people think of as visually offensive," Brown said. "I just think it shows that the community's aware of the homeless problem. I wish they would solve it, rather than masquerading."

Osceola sheriff's bureau Chief Jerry Geier said the sting was designed to raise awareness about dangerous intersections.

Nearly 25,000 drivers were ticketed for running red lights in Florida in 2001, and 107 deaths that year were attributed to drivers disregarding traffic signals. Plus, police nationwide started a new initiative this week to call attention to dangers of riding in a vehicle without using a seat belt.

"Our ultimate goal is to make an impact," Geier said. "The last thing we're trying to do is disrespect anybody."

State Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, an advocate of stronger seat-belt and other traffic-safety laws, applauded the sting operation. His daughter, Dori, 14, was killed in a 1996 traffic accident in which she did not wear a seat belt.

"I admire them for being creative," Slosberg said.


Information from: The Orlando Sentinel,

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