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Published: Wednesday, 10/2/2002

Safe-driving coupons recognize good drivers

Sgt. Jim Goodenough of the Lake Township Police Department issues Shirley Witt of Martin a good-driving coupon for Marco's Pizza. Sgt. Jim Goodenough of the Lake Township Police Department issues Shirley Witt of Martin a good-driving coupon for Marco's Pizza.

Shirley Witt made a quick trip to Food Town last week, and while pulling into the parking lot from Woodville Road, she committed a Code 103.

Ms. Witt had never been pulled over for a ticket. And she still hadn't.

Instead of reaching for his citation book, Sergeant Goodenough handed her a coupon - shaped like a dollar bill - from Marco's Pizza.

The coupon is good for a free order of Cheezy bread with a pizza purchase.

Ms. Witt was rewarded for her good driving skills - that's a Code 103.

She drove straight and narrow down the lane, had a smooth turn, and used her signal, Sergeant Goodenough, a 14-year-veteran, observed.

“I thought maybe I shouldn't park here,” said Ms. Witt, of Martin, after getting her coupon. “We use Marco's all the time. It's better than a ticket.”

And that's the message township police have been trying to getting across for the last month.

While township officers have given out 39 citations including 19 for speeding in August, they've also handed out several dozen coupons, rewarding motorists for good driving skills, using turn signals, and paying attention to the road instead of weaving while putting on makeup, reading, or using a cell phone.

The program continues until Thanksgiving.

“People always have the opinion that all the police do is write tickets and arrest people,” township police Chief Danny LaDuke said. “We are here to serve the public and people need to see the better side of police work.”

Chief LaDuke got the idea from his Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, Scott Lawson. “We like to give them [drivers']attaboys,” the chief said.

Officers don't use an official traffic stop with lights on the good-driver stops.

They don't want people to get paranoid. Officers wait until a person pulls into a store or drives home.

“It's not negative. It's positive and they appreciate it,” Sergeant Goodenough, 44, said. “We get a pretty good response and they are overwhelmed.”

Soon after Ms. Witt was rewarded for her driving, the sergeant attempted to reward another driver. But while he followed the Chrysler Sebring along the two-lane Bradner Road, the driver whipped around a Pontiac Bonneville without using a turn signal.

“She can kiss [the coupon] good-bye,” Sergeant Goodenough said.

Yet over on Walbridge Road, Mary Jo Soncrant, a nurse at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, proved she had the right stuff.

“Fantastic,” Ms. Soncrant said. “We are always hearing the negative. ... I knew I didn't do anything wrong. I thought I had a light out.”

Since the program started, one coupon winner has walked into the police station to thank Chief LaDuke for the praise.

“She thought it was refreshing that the police were doing this,” he said.

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