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Police buckle down on restraints

March 01, 1999

Belt checkBY RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Get pulled over by a police officer in Mercersburg officer and instead of a traffic ticket he might smile hand you a little grey stuffed elephant, but only if your child is safe and snug in a seat belt or car seat.

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Police chief Larry Thomas sent off for 50 of the stuffed animals as part of his department's participation in National Child Passenger Safety Week. Officers will be giving out the elephants as long as the supply lasts, Thomas said.

The elephants are decked out in little red t-shirts that say, "Elephants never forget to buckle up." They were donated to the department by the South Central Pennsylvania Highway Safety Program in Mechanicsburg, Pa., at Thomas's request.

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He said if an officer stops a car and a child inside is not belted in or buckled into a car seat the driver gets a warning, Thomas said.

"And that will be their first and last warning," he said. "The next time they are stopped and their children are not buckled up they will be arrested. No question about it. We aren't doing this to enforce the law, we're doing it to protect children. People shouldn't get upset when we stop them."

He said some motorist make excuses for not having themselves or their children buckled up. "They say they are just going across town. Most accidents occur close to home. You can get into an accident just backing out of your driveway."

The fine for not wearing a seat belt is $93, Thomas said.

Thomas said the elephant handout is part of his on-going effort to bring community policing to Mercersburg, a southwestern Franklin County town with 1,700 people and two square miles of roads.

Other efforts include bicycle safety programs, teaching very young children how to use the 911 emergency telephone system and a program that teaches children to avoid suspicious strangers.

The Mercersburg Police Department has eight officers, two full-timers including Thomas and six part-time officers.

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