As Franklin police officer Joe Dillon walks up to the vehicle he just stopped, he quickly tries to formulate what tactic he is going to take.
More than likely, the driver or passengers not wearing their seat belts is what caught his attention.
His words might be a little edgy, but he avoids being rude. He’s trying to get your attention.
If the driver is a mother and he can see that she takes care to buckle her children in correctly, his approach might be to ask her who she would pick to care for her children if she was killed in a car crash.
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If it’s a man who has a permit to carry a weapon, he asks him why he would go to such lengths to protect himself from violent crime but not take the simple step of buckling up. The chances of being hurt or killed in a car crash are far greater than needing to defend yourself from a violent crime.
Dillon, a 16-year veteran of the Franklin Police Department, writes more tickets than any other officer on the force. In 2015, he issued more than 28 percent of the citations handed out by the 46-officer department. More than a third of those were given to drivers or passengers who weren’t buckled up.
“We all get into this line of business to make a difference,” Dillon said. “I have a servant’s heart.”
He grew up watching “Cops” and thought he was going to be a police officer like the ones on TV someday.
“Our job is to solve society’s problems,” Dillon said. “People die in crashes. I can save them if I enforce the laws.”
He knows he needs to justify his work on the side of the road to the public, who might suggest his time would be better spent stopping robberies or solving crimes, and that they aren’t hurting anyone. He tells drivers that Franklin doesn’t have many robberies and that he would rather stop a driver and issue a ticket than tell the person’s family that he or she died in a car accident.
The fine is $25 and does not result in points on your license, so he doesn’t feel like he is causing a financial hardship. The government gets involved in restaurant inspections and makes sure your water is clean to keep you safe, and few people complain about that.
And oftentimes he catches suspects who are wanted or people who shouldn’t be driving.
For example, during a recent Operation Pullover shift, he stopped the last of three construction trucks because the driver was not buckled up. The driver handed him an Indiana identification card, not a driver’s license. An alarm went off in Dillon’s head. A quick search of the records system shows the man had been suspended for life after multiple drunken driving convictions.
As he’s processing the paperwork in his patrol car, he isn’t so much concerned about the driver fleeing as he is about him becoming violent. That’s the risk in any stop, especially when a person is going to jail.
He stops a vehicle with three teens inside. The driver was buckled up, but his passengers weren’t. He could have given the driver a $130 ticket, but didn’t. He speaks directly to one of the passengers after seeing in the records system that he had just been given a seat belt ticket a few days earlier. He asks him how many hours he will have to work in the hot sun to pay those fines, and why he won’t learn.
He tells them how a backseat-passenger, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, became a projectile and flew forward, causing fatal injuries to a front-seat passenger during a crash in Franklin.
The passengers get tickets.
Another vehicle turned the wrong way on West Court Street and the two people inside weren’t wearing their seat belts. The passenger jumped out because he was late to court, and the driver was beyond frustrated and started yelling.
Dillon has no desire to make her even more agitated, and simply asks, “Are you mad at me?” He gets her to talk to him. She gets a ticket for not wearing a seat belt and warnings for having expired plates and going the wrong way on a one-way street.
Dillon is a chameleon in the community who changes and adapts to the situation in front of him, Franklin Police Deputy Chief Chris Tennell said of his work. He has a knowledge of the law and a respect for the community that makes him a great resource for other officers, who quickly see that he is a leader in practice and a role model, Tennell said.
His approach can be edgy at times but is well thought-out, Tennell said. He takes just the right tact.
“He’s got a different way of communicating with the community to make them think about what could happen,” Tennell said.
As for the number of tickets Dillon writes, Tennell says this: Joe Dillon comes to work to work.
During the next stop, a young child is in a car seat in the front seat. While it is probably allowed by Indiana law, it is time for an education from Dillon. He stops the vehicle and explains what can happen during a crash with the seat belt going across the child’s face. He helps the woman move the child to the back, and tries to talk to the child to make sure he isn’t afraid of the police.
Dillon, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice, is the only certified child passenger safety technician in the county. He also taught traffic enforcement and criminal justice at Ivy Tech for several semesters.
You’re too short to wear your seat belt? Maybe it rubs your neck and is uncomfortable. Or you are only driving a few blocks. Or the lap belt is on but the shoulder belt is behind your back. He’s heard it all, and has an answer.
If the seat belt is under your arm and you are in a crash, your spleen could be ruptured.
During one stop, the driver tried to quickly pull the belt on. He didn’t have it buckled by the time Dillon was at his window.
Go ahead and put the seat belt on as he is walking up to your vehicle, but you are still going to get a ticket.
He wants to get the public’s attention, but not yell. He won’t engage in a debate about the seat belt law, resort to lecturing people or argue about whether the belts were on.
“I don’t want to give people a bad public perception of police, that we are heavy-handed,” Dillon said.
Rather, he wants to issue a wake-up call.
“Regardless of if you are going two minutes or 200 miles, be cognizant when you get in your car.”