That’s Not a Panhandler — It’s a Police Officer


A man dressed in blue jeans, a T-shirt and hiking boots stood on a street corner in Centralia Tuesday afternoon with a cardboard sign in his hand that he held out for passing cars. 

Even though he stood at a corner frequented by panhandlers, this man was not asking for money — he was asking for drivers to hang up their cellphones.

The message on his sign, scrawled in permanent marker, which read “Police Cell Phone Emphasis in Progress,” was not a joke, as many motorists assumed.

The man was Sgt. Jim Shannon, and his sign was a legitimate warning to passing drivers to either hang up their phones or get pulled over by one of the four patrol officers waiting on Harrison Avenue.


For about two hours, Centralia police pulled over more than a dozen motorists near the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Harrison Avenue, across the street from Safeway, who used their phone as they drove. 

By the end of it, eight people received tickets for talking on the phone, one for texting while driving, and four others received warnings, Shannon said.

Even with Shannon’s sign, many of the drivers were so engrossed in their phone conversations or text messages that they did not notice the warning, even as the sergeant approached their car and stood next to it.

One of the perpetrators, a young woman who looked like she was in her 20s, sat in her car at a red light, texting.

As Shannon walked up to her window with his sign, holding it within a foot of her window, the woman never looked at him. When the light changed and she started driving, as she continued to text, she traveled through the intersection and another officer, who heard Shannon’s description of her car he broadcasted on the radio, pulled her over.


Driving while talking on a cellphone slows a person’s reaction time down to a rate that is comparable with drinking with a blood alcohol content of .08, said Centralia Police Chief Bob Berg. Texting while driving slows it down twice as much to a BAC comparable to .16.

Berg announced his officers would be doing a high-profile anti-distracted driving campaign, and that motorists within the city should expect stronger enforcement earlier this month.

Texting while driving is illegal in Washington. as is having a cellphone to your ear and talking while driving. Both can result in a $124 fine. 

Tuesday afternoon was the department’s third traffic emphasis patrol targeting drivers texting or talking on cellphones while driving.

In the two previous emphasis patrols, police wrote approximately 20 tickets for phone use.


During the previous patrols, Shannon said people did not believe he was a police officer. A few, without reading his sign, rolled down their windows and tried to hand him money. 

One driver continued to talk on his phone even after the sergeant approached the window and knocked on it and said, “Police. Hang up your phone.”

The guy flipped him off and drove away — only to be pulled over a short distance later and given a ticket by another officer.

Shannon said the department is not trying to be sneaky in its patrols, which is why he held the sign warning people.

“I just try to educate people to not talk on the phone when they drive,” he said.

The main objective of his unusual strategy was to draw attention to the message: hang up and drive.

“We want to get people talking about it,” Shannon said.