'Hobocop' snares distracted drivers

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Hobocop

Police in Toronto have a new weapon in the fight against distracted drivers: Hobocop.

Unfortunately, unlike his Robocop namesake, Hobocop doesn't have a machine gun or helmet visor to bring justice down on crims, instead he is kitted out with just a tatty pair of jeans and a handwritten cardboard sign.

The man behind the shades isn't actually a cyborg either. He's just regular police constable Brian Keller, who has been tasked with tackling the problem of drivers using phones behind the wheel.

Drivers on Toronto's Highway 401 may have seen officer Keller, shuffling around amongst the traffic in his tramp disguise in the hunt for distracted drivers.

Once an offender has been targeted, Hobocop reveals his identity – much like a poverty-ridden Superman – by brandishing his badge and flipping his cardboard sign to warn offending motorists that the game is up.

While using undercover police may seem like a heavy-handed method to enforce the rules of the road, distracted driving is quickly becoming one of the leading causes of fatalities on Canada's roads and the method has yielded impressive results in other cities.

Toronto police have also used other attention-grabbing methods to hammer home the message to motorists, including driving a hearse around the city to raise awareness of the consequences of using a phone while driving.

Toronto police traffic services spokesman Const. Clint Stibbe defended the use of Hobocop, claiming that he wasn't attempting to pass himself off as a beggar.

Speaking to London Community News, he said: "He's simply dressed as a regular guy blending into the environment," he said. "If you were to think otherwise, you would be assuming ... He was not asking for money, and his sign doesn't say he was asking for money."

However, critics have argued that the method would lead to greater public distrust in homeless people.

John Clarke, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, said: "I think for the cops to be enforcing the law by sneaking up on people by masquerading as homeless people is inherently invasive and unsavory conduct."

Do you think using undercover police is a good way of catching distracted drivers? Have your say below.