Monday, December 16, 2013

Traffic Ticketing Snowmen Bring Holiday Cheer; Boost City Coffers

It is the season of giving for commuters around Marion, Ohio. With the introduction of festive traffic cameras by the Marion City Police Department a few years ago, commuters are all too happy to give back to city services by running a stop light or driving wildly over the speed limit a couple of times each holiday season.

The cameras, hidden inside packed snow resembling the heads of snowmen, are placed in various trees around the city that line some of Marion’s busiest residential thoroughfares. 

The idea is the brain child of Police Chief Ethan Saunders. “We wanted to develop a way for residents to give back to their community without burdening them with the anguish of a tax increase or the hassle of being pulled over by an officer during this time that is supposed to be joyous,” Saunders explains. The department started the unique program a few years ago, but at the time officials say drivers seemed to ignore or not even notice the cameras…much to their chagrin.

Saunders says things really took off when they found a way to make the cameras part of the city’s holiday tradition. “It came out of nowhere during a conversation with Mayor Jeff Meisterburger. He was explaining how much fun his children had with the Elf on the Shelf around the house each year and suddenly we thought we could adapt the same concept to our traffic cameras. And just like that, it took off like wildfire,” Saunders says with much enthusiasm.

Instead of just placing normal, boring cameras in plain sight, officers use the snow piled up after the first big December winter storm to create snowman heads with the cameras inside. The added effect of placing them in trees was just icing on the Christmas cookie.

Mayor Meisterburger first thought of hiring a professional sculptor to create the snowman cameras, but instead decided to have off duty officers create their own crude versions. This he says, “...brings a nostalgic feel to the snowman cameras. Like those snowmen we remember making as children. These are complete with sticks for arms, rocks for eyes and maybe a paint can or cute planter as a hat. We encourage the officers to use their imagination.”

According to Saunders, “We used to have the officers create these on a random afternoon, but we made it a surprise last year. We had a few of the Drug Enforcement Task Force officers, who really weren't doing anything important, put on their winter tactical gear and go out under the veil of night to make and place them.” 

He says the feedback has been excellent, “A number of motorists say the surprise of finding them on an unassuming morning is just like the feeling they had waking up on Christmas morning as children. It puts a smile on their face and warms their hearts. They are, then, all too happy to miss a red light or push that accelerator just little further toward the floor and speed up, knowing the funds will be going to a good cause…their community.”

Mayor Meisterburger says they just wanted to work on getting a small piece of the seasonal giving market share that has been cornered by The Salvation Army for the better part of the past century. “We think we have an advantage over The Salvation Army as there isn't any annoying bell ringing, noise pollution or Joe Schmo blocking your way out of local supermarkets or other retail establishments,” explains Meisterburger. The mayor states that there isn't anything wrong with the bell ringers, but sometimes he just doesn't have any spare to change offer and doesn't want to be bothered with it.

Local children also look forward to the snowman cameras as they are placed in different areas each year and the locations are not made public prior to the camera placement. Captain Saunders says, “It is a joy to see children excitedly point them out to their parents at the last minute just as they are speeding by, texting, Facebooking or scarfing down their fast-food sandwiches.”

The city continues to build on the ever growing program. “For the first time”, says Meisterburger, “this year motorists who help us out by ignoring basic traffic laws will receive a Christmas Card and 'Thank You' note from the city. Also inside will be their citation and colorful photos of their vehicle darting through Marion’s holiday rush hour. Its the least we could do with the overwhelming positive response we've had, the folks have been great.”

Some residents are appreciative of the city’s forward thinking. South State Street homeowner Ariel Horowitz says he and his neighbors have started a competition to see who can be the top city benefactor. “We start preparing our strategy as soon as Thanksgiving is over,” states Horowitz excitedly.

Church Street resident Zeke Pendergrass says he has started collecting the citations and photos, “We plan to pass these down from generation to generation. How else will our children’s children, and other family members, know what things used to be like. It’s a true history lesson, it’s educational.”

Progressive some would say.

Though, there are some critics who think the program is just encouraging erratic driving and could end up doing more harm than good. To that, Mayor Meisterburger says they have taken precautions against possible program abuse by running public service announcements in print and broadcast media beginning in October and running through the end of the year.

He says, “Folks need to understand that the city only needs so much. Commuters should remember that this season is also about family and togetherness. No child should be waking up on Christmas morning with nothing from their parents. The city is urging motorists to share their holiday spirit with everyone.”

Captain Saunders says there will be new twist to the program next year, as they plan to have a naming contest for the snowman cameras. “The fun should not be relegated to those with a driver’s license. We want children, the handicap and undocumented immigrants to feel like they, too, are apart of the city’s Christmas season,” he claims.

Just like the sound of jingle bells warms the hearts of folks elsewhere; in Marion, Christmas is filled with the sounds of blaring horns, screeching tires and the minimal annoyance of police sirens.

Happy Holidays from Marion, Ohio.

A Happy Holidays Christmas Parody. The snowman heads pictured are real and were only harmed when the temperature reached + 32 degrees. The cameras do not exist. That means this story is fake...not real...a joke. Thanks for your understanding and keep laughing.

****UPDATE: Due to the fact they were essentially dead and were barely hanging on, the "trees" or partial stumps that held the Snowman Heads were officially cut down and turned into saw dust in January of 2017.They are no more, long live Snowman Head Traffic Cameras****

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