Why Texas police are giving out gifts instead of tickets

Instead of giving a man a traffic ticket, two Texas police officers pooled money together to buy car seats for his three children. Such acts of charity among the police are not unusual. 

Akron Beacon Journal
Charlee Winebrenner, center, walks with her mother Alyse Shanafelt, left, and her grandparents Rob Winebrenner and Zee Shanafelt on her first day of school at Turkeyfoot School in Coventry Township, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Akron Police officers and officers from area departments lined the sidewalk to wish Charlee a good first day. Her father, Akron Police officer Justin Winebrenner was shot in November 2014 while trying to get an unruly customer out of Papa Don's Pub in Akron.

Two Texas police officers had every right to issue a man with a ticket for having an expired registration, a malfunctioning light, and three toddlers without car seats during a recent traffic stop.

But instead, officers Justin Gower and Cale Hawkins pooled money together to purchase car seats for the driver's children, KVUE TV reported

Police across the country walk a fine line between enforcing the law and respecting the communities they serve. Many police quietly go above and beyond their call of duty in serving and responding quickly to the needs of individuals. That's what happened in Cedar Park, Texas, this past weekend.

“When I was up there talking to the driver, that’s when I realized there was three kids in the back seat without car seats,” Gower told the station.

The driver’s story jogged Gower’s memory, he realized he had heard about the situation from his colleague. “Remember hearing the story about, you know, he’s saving money, he’s living in a car, he’s trying to get his family down,” Gower said.

Gower contacted Hawkins, who had spoken with the man earlier this month. “They were living in a hotel and he said all of his money was going to that at this time,” said Hawkins.

The two officers made a decision.

“Giving him three tickets, it wasn’t going to do any good,” said Gower. “Those kids were still going to have to be driven somewhere, somehow with no car seats.”

“We just kind of stepped off to the side and said we need to kind of do the right thing and get these people some car seats,” said Hawkins.

The officers sprung into action. They put their own money together and bought pink car seats for the man’s three daughters who are 1, 3 and 4-years old. “It was nothing short of a miracle. It was something that was really needed. The officers have been a blessing,” the driver told station.

In the post-Ferguson, Mo., era, many police departments are looking for ways to improve community relations. 

For example, Police officers in Concord, Mass., are planning on issuing 200 "citations" for good behavior, according the Associated Press.

Good behavior such as, wearing a bicycle helmet or a seat belt, yielding to pedestrians at a crosswalk, or looking both ways before crossing a street could be rewarded with the "citations" that are vouchers for two scoops of ice cream at a local cafe.

According to AP, Police Chief Joseph O’Connor says it's a light-hearted way to connect positively with the community.

Early this year, the Farmington Police Department in New Hampshire made many such stops – not to punish citizens, but to reward them for their good behavior, NBC News reported.

The department began handing out gift cards for free pizza and fries to residents who use crosswalks and turn signals and otherwise follow laws that are easy to ignore.

"The gift cards help form connections and build community trust," Farmington Sgt. Brian Driscoll said.

But even the best intentions can be misconstrued. In Chapel Hill, N.C., police tried to adopt a similar plan this month, but decided to postpone when it was met with community opposition after complaints emerged online that the good behavior "citations" were an excuse for "illegal traffic stops," reported the Huffington Post.

Chapel Hill police issued a statement:

In response to publicity about a recent Chapel Hill Police Department plan to reward positive behaviors by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, we have decided to postpone this portion of our work on the Watch for Me NC initiative.

The purpose of this program was to reward good behaviors on the part of community members.  However, while we never intended to stop motorists as part of this program, the fact that this was reported as part of the program has resulted in significant feedback from many community members. These concerns have resulted in a decision to re-evaluate the program and determine the appropriate manner in which to proceed.

Last year, local police in White Plains, N.Y., stepped in to save a family's Christmas after their gifts were stolen.  The police delivered $1,500 in gifts, cash, and gift cards to the family before the holiday, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

To be burglarized is bad enough," police union president Robert Riley said. "To have it happen during Christmas, and to take presents away from seven kids, is a double whammy. We wanted to make sure there was a happy ending and a happy Christmas for this family. To see the smiles and their faces this morning made it all worth it."

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