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Exemplary Police Work #9

Turn on your favorite news service and watch the turf wars. Pakistan and India are at peace, but Kashmir is still disputed. For millennia, the middle-east has waged war over Israel. Wisconsin continues to battle for rights to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Okay, the last one isn’t true, but turf wars are nothing new. The article this week will describe a common turf war found in Illinois truck enforcement and the exemplary way a local police officer dealt with it.

Want another turf war example? Arsenal Road belongs to the Will County Division of Transportation, however it once belonged to the Illinois Department of Transportation. After a nearby municipal rail crossing was closed by the Illinois Commerce Commission, a massive amount of trucks carrying overweight intermodal containers were forced onto Arsenal Road. Predictably, the county did not want to be responsible for overweight permitting and repairs to Arsenal Road, so jurisdiction is being transferred back to IDOT! This example may be a high profile, but the truth is IDOT and local government transfer road jurisdiction quite often.

The challenge to the industry, particularly those involved in specialized oversize/overweight (OS/OW) transportation, is determining the correct jurisdictional authority so appropriate permits may be purchased. With tens of thousands of centerline miles in Illinois, it’s not unreasonable to believe the paperwork for a block here, or a half-mile, there may be in dispute.

Technology and mapping systems have greatly improved efforts, but humans are still required to input data. Where there are humans, there are errors. When there are errors, there may be trucks off route. When there are trucks off route, there may be enforcement.

During the first week of August 2015, a local truck enforcement officer observed an eight-axle crane traveling on a local road. It was fairly uncommon to find OS/OW loads on this highway, and the officer made a lawful traffic stop because he had reason to believe it was overweight without a local permit. After being stopped, the driver produced an OS/OW from the IDOT.

Much to the surprise of the officer, the state permit claimed the local road was actually a state highway. He believed the jurisdiction of the road had transferred many years ago from IDOT to the municipality.  A cursory check with some other local officials led to the same belief. Over the years, this town had created a local weight restriction, plowed, fixed and maintained the roadway it as if it was their own. Turns out they were wrong.

Was the officer wrong for making the stop? No. Was he wrong for believing the highway belonged to his municipality? No. This left the officer with two choices: 1.   Weigh the crane, write the $40,000 overweight and leave the driver to defend himself in court. 2.   Let the crane go and do nothing.

The officer chose option #3: Let the crane go, but go the extra mile. Why, because it was not the fault of the crane company. Even if the highway was truly under the jurisdiction of his municipality, what was the carrier to do? They applied for a state permit and the state said the road was theirs.

The officer began an exhaustive search of local records to determine who the road truly belonged to. He also contacted the IDOT permit office in Springfield and spoke with the local roads division. The IDOT workers dropped what they were doing and immediately began combing through their records and the local officials did the same. All parties came to the same conclusion: it was indeed a state highway. No jurisdictional transfer had ever occurred.

The officer could have used his authority to write a very expensive overweight, but he chose reasonableness. He could have left the carrier to mount an expensive defense, but he chose compassion. He could have done nothing afterwards to sort out the confusion, but he honored his office and launched a thorough investigation.

The exemplary conduct of this ITEA certified officer is to be commended. Instead of igniting a turf war and driving more wedges between enforcement and industry, he proved how police, carriers and regulatory officials can work together. This is what the ITEA is all about.

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