Police officers have a lot of authority. In 625 ILCS 5/15-112(a), the law states: “Any police officer having reason to believe that the weight of a vehicle and load is unlawful shall require the driver to stop and submit to a weighing of the same…” The Illinois Supreme Court has litigated what “reason to believe” means in several cases involving the weight of vehicles. A quick answer is this…reason to believe is a standard that is less than probable cause, is less than reasonable suspicion, but is more than a mere hunch. This authority is unique to weight enforcement only. Nowhere else has the Illinois General Assembly granted this low a standard to stop and detain citizens.
Scenario: A police officer sees a truck roll by he has “reason to believe” is overweight…the tires look low, it sways side-to-side when turning, it has trouble moving from a dead standstill, the engine moans through each gear. The policeman then stops the truck and orders the driver to follow him to scale, miles out of his way, thereby depriving him of his constitutional right to liberty. Once at the scale, the police officer weighs the truck only to find out that it is legal weight, and says “see ya later”. That is an exceptional authority and completely legal.
Obviously policemen are not magicians. Radar guns will objectively record a speed just like a scale will objectively record a weight, but scales are not held in the hand of police officer. The legislature has recognized the need for weight enforcement to protect people and infrastructure by giving the police this unique power for a very limited purpose. The question that begs for an answer is who is holding the police accountable for proper application of this authority?
Judges, attorneys, and police administrators are commonly in the dark on the finer points of complicated truck law, so they look to their trained police officer to be the expert. This creates a problem because the police officer “expert” may not have a perfect understanding of the law either. Is this fair to trucking industry? Would the average citizen stand to have the police kick down their doors without a warrant or other established probable cause? Would the public stand to have police discharge service weapons without review? These examples may sound extreme compared to vehicle code enforcement…but if you ask the truck driver staring down the barrel of fines totalling in the multiple thousands of dollars, the impact is just as signficant.
Truck law is complex and mistakes happen. Until the moment a truck is on the scale, the preceding weight investigation is a subjective judgment call…and sometimes the trucks are light. Good policemen own up to this and learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, the moneylust of overweight enforcement causes some police officers to bend and abrogate the law for revenue purposes, and that is a travesty. It undermines the credibility of law enforcement. It hurts an industry vital to our economy. It leads to unbalanced, kneejerk legislation.
If you are a police officer specializing in truck enforcement, will you join the ranks of over 220 Illinois police officers choosing exceptional accountability by partnering with the ITEA? If you are a trucker or trucking company owner, you deserve the best truck cops in your community. Have you contacted your local police chief or sheriff and respectfully requested their truck officers become members of an organization seeking to bring uniformity to truck enforcement? The ITEA is paving a road to responsible and accountable truck enforcement…stand and be counted.