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Cops Hire Kids To Enforce Seatbelt Laws
Kids vow to impose stiff penalty if family doesn't buckle up

CDA Press | June 9, 2005

POST FALLS -- Dakota Kitchen became a Junior Seatbelt Officer on Monday and vowed to impose a stiff penalty on his family if they don't buckle up.

"One dollar," the Seltice third-grader said firmly. "Most of the time I have to remind my mom when we're leaving the driveway, and my sister always puts the part that goes across her chest behind her back."

Utilizing "officers" such as Kitchen is the latest creative way the Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene police will try to increase seat-belt usage among adults and children.

"Sometimes it means more coming from your child rather than a police officer," Post Falls Sgt. Pat Knight said. "Hitting kids with a message can be better than hitting adults with a citation."

Post Falls began its run of issuing officer cards to third-graders at Seltice and Mullan Trail schools on Monday, just in time for the summer break. Officers will be at Prairie View and Ponderosa today. Coeur d'Alene plans to run a similar program.

The back of the card says, "As a Junior Seatbelt Officer, I promise to always wear my seat belt and make sure everyone else in the vehicle is wearing his or her seat belt. If anyone in the vehicle is caught not wearing his or her seat belt, they may be fined (blank)."

"It doesn't have to be about money," Knight told students. "It can be about chores. We just want to see more of you and more of your parents buckle up. Every time you don't, the chances of you getting hurt are higher."

Seltice's Keegan Knowles hopes his crackdown on his family's lack of seat-belt usage will get him out of brushing up on his reading skills for a day. Knowles already has a suspect he's zeroing in on.

"Usually my papa doesn't wear his, and he can be a crazy driver," Knowles said.

Knight hopes the program, thought of by Coeur d'Alene's Nick Knoll, will increase both seat-belt usage and agencies' federal grant funding for such programs.

Idaho's $10 fine doesn't do much to make people think twice about not wearing their belts, Knight said.

"It will get stiffer -- it has to," he said.

Seat-belt usage in Post Falls is about 80 percent, according to surveys the agency conducts. The state's average is about 75 percent.

"I won't be satisfied until we're constantly above 90 percent," Knight said.

Post Falls' funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for seat-belt enforcement programs was cut from $4,000 to $2,800 this year.

"We're trying to think outside the box and make sure that funding heads back our way," Knight said


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