JOHNSON CITY - When Gary Davis saw a swarm of police officers on West Main Street late last week, he wasn't sure what to think.
"I was coming down Main Street," Davis said. "I didn't know if it was a drug bust or a bomb threat. I had no idea what was going on."
As he started to drive through the mass of officers, Davis reached to put on his seat belt.
"I figured I should put it on if I was going to be driving by all these officers," Davis said.
Davis quickly learned there was neither a drug bust nor a bomb threat. Instead, the officers were out in full force that day looking for people just like Davis, who were not wearing seat belts.
"One of the goals we have set is to try to do everything we can to save people from being injured or killed in a traffic crash," said Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry. "One of the biggest things we can do as a police department is make sure people are belted in properly."
Using money from a Governor's Highway Safety Office grant, the department is paying some of its officers overtime to conduct the seat belt checkpoints in various parts of the city.
"So far, since we started this operation, I think we've done at least three, if not four, checkpoints," Lowry said. "On each one of the operations they've done, they've written, I'd say, over 50 citations each time. That's way more than we'd like to see."
Lowry called the checkpoints a "proactive approach" to preventing unnecessary injuries and deaths on city roads.
"The problem we are having is people being thrown out of the vehicle because they're not belted in and then suffering blunt force trauma or being run over. Your body is not meant to be traveling at 20 miles per hour or 60 miles per hour and then be thrown out onto the pavement," Lowry said. "I'm almost positive that the vast majority of fatal crashes we see, if those folks were belted into the vehicle, that would probably be the difference between them being killed or just being injured, if injured at all."
While Davis, who now owes the city $10 for not being buckled in, recognizes that seat belts "probably save lives," he still doesn't like being told he has to wear one.
"I understand it's the law and I don't mean any disrespect to the police department. They've got a job to do and I respect that," said Davis, a Jonesborough resident. "But I'm 55 years old and I say it should be my prerogative to wear the belt or not wear it. If you're above 21 years of age, it should be up to you."
Davis, who works as a contractor, said he usually chooses not to wear his seat belt because he has tape measures and cell phones on his belt loop and the seat belt "comes across and irritates me." He also said his ticket has not convinced him to start buckling up.
"I was in my truck for three hours today and out of that time, I probably wore it for about 20 minutes," Davis said. "I doubt very seriously that I'll start wearing it more often."
For people like Davis, who choose not to obey the seat belt law, Lowry warned that his officers will ticket them every chance they get.
"What we're asking for is voluntary compliance," Lowry said. "But either way, we'll be out there and we are strictly watching."