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Reason To Believe

In law enforcement circles it is not unusual to hear comments about truck officers having the ability to stop trucks “for any reason” because they are “trained”. This is not true…see our article Exceptional Authority Demands Exceptional Accountability“. Police officers may stop a truck and order it to be weighed on a scale only when they have reason to believe the vehicle is overweight. The courts in Illinois have been liberal in their interpretation of reason to believe, but they have never given local police officers blanket permission to stop trucks for merely operating on the highways of this state.

A police officer may also stop a truck for a random traffic violation, and thru the course of the stop, develop independent reason to believe the vehicle is overweight. The police officer may then order the driver to the scale. This scenario is no different than a police officer stopping a car for speeding, walking up to the window, smelling the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage, and then conducting a DUI investigation…perfectly legal. Compare that scenario to a police officer stopping cars for random traffic violations and ordering the driver to take a breath alcohol test for no reason….a mobile checkpoint charlie, so to speak? The practice of using probable cause traffic violations as pretext to weigh a truck without independent reason to believe is fruit of the poisonous tree.

This past Thursday (February 16th, 2012), the ITEA conducted an 8-hour certification class for dozens of police officers who chose to step up and take the challenge of being accountable for their truck enforcement activities. During the afternoon portion of the class, a trucking industry defense attorney who serves on the ITEA Board of Directors taught a block of instruction that included reason to believe. An in-depth discussion began about this topic and something unprecedented and incredibly encouraging happened.

One officer said their agency would assign several non-truck officers on certain days to do truck enforcement. However, the non-truck officers were instructed to stop trucks for random traffic violations (probable cause) and then order the driver to the scale for a weight investigation by the trained truck officers. This is problematic because police officers, regardless of training, cannot order a truck to be weighed on a scale without reason to believe it is overweight.

Hearing this story gave the instructor a chance to correct a problem, and hopefully other police officers reading this will learn from the story as well. But most encouraging was the humility shown by the officer to listen to authoritative instruction, acknowledge the error, and agree the practice will cease. That is what the ITEA is all about. How this agency came to start this practice, whether intentional or unintentional, is irrelevant. What matters is the flag of professionalism was raised a little higher up the pole.

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