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Plastic cop puts brakes on speeders

(ran PW, PS editions of PASCO TIMES)

He can't talk. He can't walk. He can't shoot a gun.

Some call him Ronald. Some call him Donald. But names and titles don't mean much to him. By any name, he's still one of the city's top law enforcers.

An armless, legless wonder, he works 24-hour shifts without complaint, stoically staring down motorists from his police cruiser parked in the center of U.S. 19. He never has to turn on his siren when speeders pass him by. Drivers feel the fear and automatically slow down.

And that's exactly what Tarpon Springs Police Department officials hoped for when they hired the dummy.

"It keeps the people honest out there," said Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Jeff Young. "And it will hopefully slow down the speeding problems."

When police began posting a manikin in a patrol car in conspicuous locations around the city three years ago, the plastic patrolman instantly became one of their most effective law enforcement tools.

"We put him out there because traffic safety obviously is a big concern no matter where you are," Young said.

Traffic concerns are especially acute in the heart of Pinellas County's busy northern corridor. Traffic volumes are heavy and speeding vehicles are a frequent occurrence in Tarpon Springs, Young said.

An average of 66,000 cars a day travel U.S. 19 north of Lemon Street, according to recent state statistics.

Heavy traffic on wide roads like U.S. 19 is a magnet for speeders.

But around-the-clock traffic enforcement can be costly. Hiring a police officer to do the job of a dummy could add up to more than $400 for a 24-hour shift, not to mention the cost of fuel to keep the patrol car running.

"It's not economically feasible to have a police officer on duty for traffic there 24 hours a day," Young said. "The cost savings is definitely there."

Which is why several times a week, police staff a patrol car with the manikin torso dressed in full uniform and park it where potential speeders can see it.

During peak traffic hours a real police officer occasionally relieves the dummy patrolman, tracking speeders with a radar gun, Young said.

While the dummy keeps many motorists on their toes, others have a different reaction.

"Sometimes," Young said, "you get complaints from citizens out there who say there's an officer sleeping on the job."

_ Candace Rondeaux can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or rondeauxsptimes.com.

Ronald, also known as Donald, or sometimes just "dummy," doesn't get vacation, health benefits or even lunch, so please give him a brake when you see him.

The Tarpon Springs Police Department occasionally uses this dummy in a police cruiser to slow down traffic. "It keeps the people honest out there," Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Jeff Young said.

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