Decoys deter speeders, criminals
Published: Feb 10, 2007

As surely as the sun rises in the east, brake lights will flare when drivers see a squad car parked in the road’s median.

That’s what the sheriff’s office is banking on when it distributes its three decoy cars across Hernando County every day.

The cars are old retirees headed for the auction block that deputies reserve for one last job before they go. A new shipment of cars arrives every six months to a year.

The traffic unit assigns the decoy cars based on where accidents and speeders are on the rise in each district of the sheriff’s office. Complaints from the public also play a large part in where the cars are located.

After a few days in one spot, drivers catch on that there’s no one in the squad car. They relax and pick up speed again. Big mistake.

“Violators get accustomed to seeing it,” said Lt. Scott Bierwiler, District 2 commander. Then, “lo and behold we have a traffic deputy sitting in the car.”

Mannequins are on their way to staff the cars so that even the savviest driver won’t know the difference from a distance.

Administrators love the idea because it frees deputies to respond to calls. Unlike their human counterparts, the decoy car doesn’t require bathroom breaks, meal breaks or overtime.

Decoy cars are fighting crime too.

Construction burglaries continue to pick up in the county, so decoy cars are stationed outside developments such as Sterling Hills. Burglars looking for free copper and lumber think twice when they see a squad car waiting outside, according to Bierwiler.

The suspect doesn’t know if the deputy just parked for a minute or if it’s really empty, Bierwiler said, “and we benefit from that.”

Each district uses the car for its specific needs. For example, District 3 has used its car in the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel in Ridge Manor and the area’s motels.

In District 2, you’re liable to see the car parked on Deltona Boulevard or outside Lake-wood Plaza on Commercial Way.

Deputies try to bring in the cars overnight to keep them safe. A back window was cracked in one of the cars after someone threw a rock at it, Bierwiler said.

Reporter Kyle Martin can be contacted at 352-544-5271.