CENTRAL GLENDALE — The large furry rabbit walking between Central and Garfield avenues Wednesday was no hallucination, especially for drivers who failed to yield.
For an hour and a half, Glendale Police Officer Tom Broadway donned the eye-catching costume during an enforcement sting aimed at educating motorists to yield for pedestrians walking along unmarked crosswalks.
Police cited 24 motorists on suspicion of failing to yield to Broadway as he walked across Central.
“One of the violators said he was confused by it,” Sgt. Dennis Smith said. “He said he hopped in front of him.”
Police said the sting was about more than just enforcement, with officers also taking time to educate motorists.
“We are not here to create violations,” Lt. Gary Montecuollo said. “Quite frankly, we would be happy if everybody stopped. The idea is to generate a knowledge of safety for the pedestrian.”
Most of the officers participating in the operation were wearing their uniforms, except Broadway. Officers were also waiting on their motorcycles along Central.
“The bottom line is that we want to make people safe, and if by giving them a ticket that reinforces the need to be safe, then ultimately we have accomplished the objective to try to keep our pedestrians and our city safe,” Montecuollo said.
But the operation infuriated Councilman John Drayman, who said he learned of the sting only after it had taken place.
Calling the enforcement sting a “stupid traffic stunt” that was “breathtakingly dangerous,” Drayman said city resources would have been more appropriately used to clamp down on speeding motorists — an issue that prompts daily complaints from the public.
“The police may be experts in public safety, but they don’t have a padlock on common sense,” he said. “This is not law enforcement, this is taking public safety personnel, dressing them as bunny rabbits to confuse, disorient and shock drivers and then cite them with traffic tickets.”
Drayman added that he planned to raise the issue at the next City Council meeting.
Political fallout notwithstanding, police officials said they decided to seize the holiday moment and use a rabbit costume. The bunny suit also cuts down on the ability of drivers to claim they didn’t see the decoy, they said.
“The reason that we set it in a bunny suit is that’s clearly an obvious, different and unique pedestrian that would be walking across the street,” Montecuollo said.
Police conducted a similar sting with a rabbit suit about five years ago, he said. Los Angeles police have used Santa Claus costumes.
They chose Central for the sting because there were seven pedestrian-involved collisions last year on the same stretch of road, police said. So far this year, there have been five, police said.
During the sting, orange cones were set out on the roadway 164 feet from the unmarked crosswalk to given motorists ample time to stop for Broadway, Smith said.
“The bunny will not start crossing unless the car is beyond those cones, and that gives them enough time to see the pedestrian and gives them enough stopping distance,” he said.
Most motorists during the sting stopped when they saw Broadway crossing the street, Smith said. But a few drove by the officer, some almost hitting him.
While seeing a man dressed in a rabbit suit may have been entertaining for some people, the meaning was far more serious for Central business owner Vik Izekelian, whose German shepherd, Kasey, was injured by a hit-and-run driver.
Izekelian generally walks his dog every morning before opening his shop, Central Automotive and Electric. But his dog jumped in front of him one day at Central and Garfield and was hit.
“If I was a little bit ahead, I would have been hit,” he said.
After his dog was hit, he grabbed it, jumped in his car, tracked down the motorist and called police.
The police sting operation, he said, may help save people’s lives.
— Jason Wells contributed to this article.