06/03/2015 04:13 EDT | Updated 06/03/2016 05:59 EDT

How a panhandling cop catches drivers out

Dressing up as a panhandler is just one of many tactics police officers employ to catch drivers who refuse to heed laws against using cell phones or not wearing seat belts — and it's a creative solution that works.

"We've tried many different things over the years," Gord Molendyk, spokesperson for the Vernon/Okanagan RCMP told CBC News Wednesday.

"Sometimes officers wear hard hats and pose as construction workers."

No one was more surprised than Molendyk when the tactic made the Vernon RCMP a viral sensation this week, with images of an officer posing as a panhandler were picked up by the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and other online outlets.

"It's something our officers, both RCMP and municipal, have been doing for some time," he said. "I'm really surprised it's become such a big thing."

Why it works

Unlike actual panhandlers, the undercover officers don't walk down the traffic, he said. Instead, they stand on the corner, looking straight into cars waiting at the junction.

The ruse works, Molendyk explains, because most drivers do their utmost to turn a blind eye to panhandlers.

"No one wanted to give [the officer] any money," he said. "For the most part, they didn't even want to look at him."

Drivers who did look more closely were shown the officer's cardboard sign that explained he was not actually homeless.

In just one hour, this week's operation in Vernon resulted in 11 tickets for either illegal cell phone use or not wearing a seat belt.