Local police officers are gearing up to buckle down on Santa Barbara motorists not wearing their seat belts.

A grant recently approved by the Santa Barbara City Council will allocate $24,994, provided by the California Office of Traffic Safety, to the Santa Barbara Police Dept. (SBPD) to fund overtime hours for officers to focus their attention specifically on seat belt and minor traffic violations. SPBD Traffic Supervisor Sgt. Ed Olsen said enforcement during the three-week program, which will begin May 16 and will end June 5, will look for drivers not using their seat belts, small children not riding in car seats and motorcyclists not wearing helmets.

“The ultimate goal is not to go out and give good people tickets,” Olsen said. “You can clearly see that this is a safety campaign.”

The money received by the department will only be used to pay the overtime wages of police officers taking part in the program, Olsen said. If a major crime or disaster occurs, he said, the officers will be pulled from their traffic assignment and will not receive the funds allocated for the enforcement program.

Olsen said the SBPD applies for this grant each year, in an attempt to reinforce the importance of vehicle safety to Santa Barbara drivers. He said the June 2003 enforcement period led to a jump in seat belt compliance — from 89 percent to 91 percent — but said there was a noticeable decrease in seat belt usage a year afterward, indicating the need to run the program annually.

“After a year there is a slide in seat belt usage,” Olsen said. “The enforcement has an effect on seat belt usage.”

The SBPD will attempt to use as much of the grant funding as possible, Olsen said, because any money left after the program ends must be returned to the Office of Traffic Safety in Sacramento.

“I keep tabs, and in the end I have to write a summary of the grants and I ship it back to the Office of Traffic Safety to see how the money [was spent],” Olsen said. “I want to maximize the use of the money because we don’t get it back – we send the money back.”

Das Williams, one of the Santa Barbara City Council members who voted to approve the grant, said the federal funding will help relieve local citizens of the higher taxes they would otherwise have to pay in order to provide such programs. He said the grant will serve to supplement law enforcement programs already in operation.

“It’s not like if this grant wasn’t approved the SBPD wouldn’t enforce the law,” Williams said. “[This grant is] just to help the Police Dept. pay for it.”