No one wants to be known as a Grinch over the holidays, not even the Santa Monica Police. So the police are giving safe and polite drivers citations for their courtesy and turkeys for their tables.
"We're just trying to reward the good drivers," said Sgt. Pat Armstrong, who, with six motorcycle officers, spends the rest of the year citing only the bad drivers. The good-driver tickets, redeemable for a free turkey, are awarded to drivers who stop for pedestrians or other drivers during the holidays, when traffic is harrowing and accidents increase, he said.
"There's a lot of shopping, more pedestrians on the street, more cars on the street--there's gridlock," Armstrong said.
Armstrong said about 15 people have been issued "turkey tickets" since Nov. 21, when the program started, and he expects about 85 more will be honored by Christmas Eve, when the program ends.
"Sometimes it's hard to find people to give (the tickets) to," Armstrong said. He recently drove around for an hour before spotting a driver who stopped for an elderly woman trying to cross Wilshire Boulevard.
Not Just for Drivers
"(The driver) said she couldn't wait to get home to tell her family, because her family always nags at her for driving too slow," he said.
Pedestrians are also eligible for the tickets. One such pedestrian was ticketed because even though he was in a hurry, he stopped at the curb when the "Don't Walk" light flashed.
The Santa of the program--the donor of the 15-pound turkeys--is the John Rossi Youth Foundation in Santa Monica, which offers youths tutoring, Christmas parties and seminars on drugs and gangs. Rossi, a Santa Monica resident, said he suggested the good-driver citations to the Police Department after noticing "all the kids who wind up with broken arms, ankles and what not after they're hit by drivers when they're in crosswalks or on their bikes, and it's not their fault." Last year, the first time Santa Monica tried the program, about 75 people were cited, Armstrong said.
The good drivers, startled when they're pulled over, have been delighted with their tickets.
Beverly Hills resident Bill Silvestre said he didn't know what he had done wrong when Officer Ira Rutan turned on the lights and sirens and ordered him to pull over last week. Silvestre had stopped his red AMC Jeep Cherokee to let an oncoming driver turn left in front of him. Getting the good-driver ticket "was a pleasant surprise," he said. Silvestre said the only other tickets he has received were a speeding ticket about 20 years ago and a parking ticket 10 years ago.
Santa Monica lawyer Jay B. Siegel was on Lincoln Boulevard the day before Thanksgiving, heading for the on-ramp to the Santa Monica freeway, when he let a police officer merge from a driveway. "I waved him in front of me, he pulled out, turned around and pulled alongside. I thought, 'What could I have done to warrant this?' I'm a real estate attorney, but I know enough about criminal law to know they have to have probable cause to be doing this."
The officer said Siegel was being ticketed for his courtesy, and Siegel, who had not heard of the program, joked, "what's it good for, a turkey?"
"The gesture is nice. It made my day," Siegel said.
During the holiday season, everyone is in a rush, he said. "Everybody's driving too fast, including me," he admitted. Since he got his turkey, which is waiting in the freezer for Christmas, "I've been extra courteous, I've been letting people in front of me," Siegel said.