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Police Quotas

It’s that time of year again…legislation time! Actually, the current legislation session is almost over, but any bill that might survive is now apparent. Each year the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association takes a look at legislation that will affect truck enforcement in Illinois. This week the ITEA will look at SB3411, a bill prohibiting ticket quotas by police officers. To be perfectly clear, ITEA is not taking a position to support or oppose this bill. This organization prides itself by landing in the middle of all things. Balanced legislation which promotes good local governance and builds a profitable trucking industry is the goal.  This legislation has been long demanded by police labor unions and the motoring public in general. Introduced in each General Assembly for years, the current version has made it further than any predecessors. It successfully passed out of the Senate and into House in early April. The law will equally eliminate citation quotas for municipal, county, state and conservation police officers. On the other side of the coin are police executives and government leaders who believe quotas are a necessary way to measure the performance of police officers. While nobody wants police officers writing bad tickets to meet a measurable objective, the opposition to this bill fear lack of accountability will lead to lazy (or lazier) police officers. There is no doubt the public deserves to know the police officers they fund are actually out there working, but the term “quota” has been synonymous with discriminatory practices. So much so that many people, including the average police officer, have been led to believe quotas are already illegal in Illinois, but nothing could be further from the truth. Some states like Texas and California have already banned police quotas for traffic citations.  What is currently illegal is a quota of measurable police activity which, under the color of law, discriminates against a protected class of people. The civil rights movement in the United States has made such incredible strides in the last 50 years it’s practically unthinkable that any modern police agency with a shred of dignity would even entertain such a program. Because of the negativity associated with the word “quota”, police administrations more commonly use the term performance “standards / goals / initiatives”. Some agencies quantify their standards daily, monthly, or annually but at the end of the day, it’s a lawful quota in Illinois. If it were currently unlawful, the General Assembly would not have introduced the legislation in the first place.  Do quotas push some police officers to write tickets they might not have if there had not been a quota in the first place? Probably. Will banning quotas push some lazy police officers into further apathy? Probably. This is why we have democratic process. Our elected officials will decide what is best for Illinois.  Two amendments of substance have been added to the bill since its inception. The first allows a quantifiable measurement of police “contacts”. This means police administrators can require police officers to go out and work, but cannot require them to have to write citations. Warnings are just as credible. The same amendment allows for quotas when the enforcement funding is from Federal or State grants for specific campaigns, like DUI checkpoints, seatbelt zones or motor carrier enforcement. The second amendment to the bill limits home rule communities from trying an end-run around the law.  The hope is most police officers will go out and do their job exactly how they did it before the passage or failure of this law. If you are reader and believe ticket quotas are about revenue, think again. The fine money generated from traffic violations is divided between so many different pots that no police agency is recouping the cost of enforcement and prosecution compensation. Not even close. How will this impact truck enforcement? Like other police officers, many truck officers have a quota of tickets to write. Many of these quotas are for overweight violations. Why? Because overweight citations produce revenue…real revenue unlike general traffic enforcement.     The ITEA is resolute in the belief that quality enforcement always proceeds revenue. Any monies derived from enforcement should be the by-product of lawful, fair and reasonable enforcement. Police officers or administrators who develop truck enforcement programs solely for financial gain are not only hurting the economy, but directly exploiting reputable business and the good name of their police agency. It’s shameful.  Administrators of well-rounded truck enforcement programs set expectations for officers to not only write tickets, but educate, resource, train and advocate for the industry. That is how the public and infrastructure are best protected. This bill, if signed into law will obviously eliminate quotas for overweight citations just like it will speeding citations. However, there is nothing here that prevents law enforcement officials from creating financial goals for truck officers, especially if other traffic revenues start dropping off due to the law.  Here’s a reasonable, albeit unfortunate outcome: expect those who unauthoritatively train local truck officers through state-sponsored, taxpayer funded courses to expand their market share later this year. They title their courses “basic weight enforcement” on the internet yet call it “revenue 101” in the classroom. Dangle the revenue carrot in tough financial times and watch local government run amuck with moneylust. Everyone ought to be careful what they wish for with this law.

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