Is Mammoth a "seat belt trap?"

Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson got his back up this week when he learned an Orange County man had dropped off a document to the Mammoth Times claiming the town has deliberately set up “Seat Belt Traps.”

“A law enforcement official parks his police car facing the stop sign waiting for a tourist coming from the L.A. area,” wrote Barry H. Buckser, of Lake Forest.

“When the person stops for the stop sign, and since the police car is clearly visible, only a fool would not stop, the enforcement official waves him over and writes a ticket for failure to wear a seat belt – presumably the most odorous of crimes in Mono County.”

Watson was a bit flummoxed by the letter, but didn’t write it off. Instead, he said he wrote back to the man, who apparently was cited for a seat belt violation at the intersection of S.R. 203 and U.S. 395 – outside MLPD’s jurisdiction – while visiting on a fishing trip.

“Mr. Buckser infers that tourists are specifically targeted because they aren’t local residents and don’t vote in elections,” Watson said. “Officers patrolling the highway or town don’t know who’s driving the vehicle.
“We do not want to discourage visitors. To the contrary, we welcome them.“

Watson also responded to the man’s assertion that writing traffic citations helps the town’s revenue, but he swatted that argument aside.

“This is a common complaint law enforcement receives from people who’ve received a traffic citation,” Watson wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

“What most people don’t realize is that the majority of the cost of a citation goes to penalty assessments. Some of the funds go to the state, some to the county, some to the courts, and some to the citing agency.

“If this citation had been written by an MLPD officer, only a small portion would be returned to the town.”