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Police pose as panhandlers to catch drivers not wearing seat belts

Undercover officers holding cardboard signs look for unsafe drivers

Police officers in California conducted a similar sting in 2015.
Police officers in California conducted a similar sting in 2015.

SOUTHFIELD, Michigan – When you think of police going undercover, traffic cops aren't the first officers that come to mind. But this week in a suburb outside Detroit, Michigan state troopers are posing as panhandlers to catch unsafe drivers in the act.

The troopers were primarily looking for people who weren't wearing their seat belts. But the troopers were ready to enforce other public safety laws, such as running red lights and texting while driving, the local news radio station WWJ reported Tuesday.

One trooper dressed in shabby clothes and held a cardboard sign while the other, in full uniform, was back from the street, waiting for word of unbuckled riders. The officers did tip off riders -- their cardboard signs read "Buckle up. Save a Life," rather than a plea for money.

Police departments across the country are increasingly turning to the novel tactic, especially as distracted driving has become more common with mobile phones and text messaging.

In 2015, the San Bernardio Police Department told ABC News that its undercover officers were able to issue 50 citations in just three hours. The California officers credited Royal Canadian Mounted Police for the idea.