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Discretionary Measures

If you ever want to enter in to a heated debate with police officers, bring up the topic of discretion.  From the moment a police officer steps foot in the academy and up until the day he retires, the parameters of his discretion are constantly being refined.  This is primarily accomplished by the endless playing of “what if” scenarios with other officers.   Last week we looked at the warning system police officers have at their disposal…this week we will look at the human side of what, when and who to cite.

Recently, a police officer member of the ITEA was giving a presentation to a large group of landscape contractors.  Due to the size and configurations of vehicles landscapers typically operate, a portion of the presentation was spent on instruction about when commercial driver’s licenses are needed and when they are not.  After some basic guidelines were taught, photos of different trucks and combinations were shown, and the audience was asked to call out what classification of license a driver would need.  Midway thru the photo array, one of the attendees raised his hand and asked the presenter his personal opinion about CDL criteria.

Generally speaking, most people familiar with truck law understand that a typical semi-tractor trailer combination requires a Class-A CDL.  However, there are many times landscapers operating smaller trucks with larger capacity tag trailers may be required to have a Class-A as well.  Here are pictures of two combinations, and each may require a Class-A CDL:

When the person in the class asked his question about the officers personal opinion, he was not really asking a question…he was declaring his opinion that the two combinations of vehicles are completely different and should not require the same classification of license.  The question he really wanted to ask was, “Officer, in your discretion, would YOU arrest a driver operating a combination I personally feel should not be required to have a CDL?”.

Traffic law has many thresholds for enforcement.  Drunk driving per se is a blood alcohol concentration of .08.  Misdemeanor speeding is 31 mph over the speed limit.  Maximum gross weight for vehicles is 80,000 pounds.  Somewhere in legislative history, the Illinois General Assembly set these ceilings, and somewhere out there are those who disagree the law is practical and unfair to their particular business.  The problem is that there needs to be an absolute at some point.  At the time the bills were drafted, there was good reason for why the legislators drew a line in the sand.  If police officers have to judge all violations with a moving target, how can they enforce the law with equity?

It is understandable why the person in the class questioned the need for Class-A drivers to operate smaller truck-full trailer combinations.  It costs more money to hire a CDL driver than drivers with non-CDLs.  An experienced CDL driver may not want to drive and perform labor, thereby requiring more personnel.  If a landscaper contractor sends a non-CDL driver out to get his CDL to operate larger vehicles, he risks losing the driver to another company where he can make more money with the higher license.

These are justifiable concerns in a lagging economy where competitive pricing is cut-throat…every dollar counts.  A police officer is welcome to take these concerns into consideration before citing a violation however he is not required.  The landscaper could choose to only purchase trailers small enough to make the combinations non-CDL worthy.  The landscaper could hire out the CDL work to another carrier.

These may not be ideal solutions, but a police officer should not be called into question for taking an enforcement action within the law because another feels the law is impractical or an economic burden.  Police officers and truckers will always be looking at the law through two different sets of discretionary glasses.  Police officers will look at the discretion of their peers with different sets of discretionary glasses.  What may be important to one officer from one town may not be important to another officer from another town.  The merit of the police officer is not found in the stroke of his pen, but in his convictions.  A discerning person is wise to measure the discretion of another very carefully.

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