DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — It’s the last thing you want when you’re driving — getting pulled over or flagged down by an officer, even if you know you’re not doing anything wrong.
With major travel days coming up around Central Texas, law enforcement will be looking for law-breakers on the roads. But, in Hays County, sheriff’s deputies are spending a couple days looking for something else.
Wednesday morning, the members of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office motor unit — the deputies who patrol on motorcycles — parked their bikes outside the Whataburger in Dripping Springs and started staking the place out, waiting to move in when they saw what they were looking for.
“There we go. This guy’s coming in,” one deputy said to his colleagues as a man walked toward the restaurant. “I’m Deputy Gamble with the sheriff’s office,” he told the man. “I noticed you were wearing your seat belt when you came in here.”
Deputy David Gamble wasn’t cutting anyone slack Wednesday. Instead, he and the rest of the motor unit were cutting checks.
Deputies flagged down dozens of drivers in the parking lot, and the conversations turned from concern to confusion. “So on behalf of the Hays County motor division in the sheriff’s office,” Deputy Tate Puryear told one driver, “I’m going to buy y’all’s breakfast this morning. Y’all have a merry Christmas.”
Jason Laurent took the gift card Puryear handed him, his mouth hanging open. “What?!” he exclaimed. “Merry Christmas!”
“I was pretty excited,” Laurent told KXAN after the interaction. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
“We’re not out here, especially as motor cops, we’re not out here to just write tickets,” Gamble said. The unit spent $1,000 for a pile of $10 gift cards at four restaurants around the county, one each in Dripping Springs, Buda, Kyle and San Marcos. They hit three of them on Wednesday and planned to be at the last location (which they asked KXAN not to reveal) Thursday at lunchtime.
“Instead of giving you a citation,” Deputy Robert Nguyen told a woman in an SUV, “we’re going to give you a gift card and say, ‘Merry Christmas.'”
“It was this really nice, sweet treat,” Pam Salada said with a laugh, holding up her gift card.
The deputies raised the money for the gifts themselves. Each pitched in $50 earlier this year to buy t-shirts and mugs to resell with the goal of raising enough money to take them to a motorcycle skills competition in Louisiana. That plan fell through, and they weren’t able to go.
“So we ended up with a surplus of money,” Puryear explained to a driver, “and you’re going to benefit from that this morning because you’re wearing your seat belt.”
All the deputies in the unit agreed: This is how they wanted to spend the money. Initially, they considered pulling drivers over on the road — but if they saw something illegal in their attempt to hand out presents, they would have a quandry on their hands — wanting to act on it, but not having probable cause in the first place to pull them over. Instead of that headache and the risk of being Christmas Grinches, they opted for a more strategic approach and kept their eyes out in specific locations for people buckling up, using turn signals and having the proper car seats for young kids. Those lucky, law-abiding citizens earned a free meal.
“Did not expect that,” Marianne Worlow said after getting a gift card from Nguyen, “so it was kind of sweet.”
The motor unit looks at it as a small way they can reach people who might have soured on law enforcement. “We’re real people, too,” Nguyen said. “We’re all fathers, we’re all husbands, we’re all sons, daughters, and we just want to make sure we’re showing the human side of it.”
“We do truly care about our community,” Gamble said.
Hays County isn’t the only agency handing out gifts. In Cedar Park, officers there handed out toys to children at various “traffic” stops.