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Separation of Truckers and Stereotypes

Cruising down the highway with your baby by your side is as American as apple pie. So why would a national police publication tell officers that a passenger in a commercial vehicle is an automatic red flag to delay a trucker for a minor traffic offense? And why would a trucker purposely try to intimidate an officer with mounds of neatly organized paperwork they are required to carry and provide when asked? Read on to find out why.

This type of article is an example of an “industry second” mindset the Illinois Truck Enforcement is working hard to correct. ITEA certified officers know to put industry first…it is who they serve. Police work is not the same for all types of activity an officer may encounter. Publishing generic information on truck enforcement without consulting those who specialize in truck enforcement creates poor practices among police officers.

For instance, under federal law, passengers are allowed in commercial motor vehicles in certain situations, but the documentation is only required to be held at the company office, not in the truck. It’s important for a police officer to find out who the passenger is and why the they are there, but it does not automatically give them the ability to keep a driver longer than need be on a mere hunch.

The author tells readers that a well-dressed truck driver is probably hiding something in his trailer, and to see if “the story matches the person”. What is the “story” for a driver wearing comfortable clothing who likes to look nice, or even one who doesn’t? People come in all shapes and sizes and deciding a certain type of person, or their attire, does not fit within a stereotype is not a good standard for police work.

The best truck drivers often keep their paperwork neatly organized in a three ring binder. The ITEA encourages drivers to maintain binders, and officers to utilize the binders to conduct a safe and efficient traffic stop. This binder contains everything needed conduct basic traffic enforcement. It is not a tactic used by truckers to intimidate and confuse a police officer.

When an officer hands the binder back to the driver explaining he only wants insurance and registration, and then tells the driver that failing to comply will result in his truck being towed, that’s intimidation. If the officer does not have the time to look through the documents himself, as the author suggests, then maybe the officer shouldn’t be wasting the driver’s time either.

The author suggests officers should ask for things like medical cards, logbooks and bills of lading, which are way outside the scope of a stop for nothing more than a driver with a lead foot. Medical cards are now being processed through the state licensing agency. In Illinois, a local officer may only enforce the status of a CDL, which can be impacted by a driver failing to update his medical certificate. Only a CVSA certified inspector has a legitimate purpose for inspecting the physical medical certificate.

Log books are more often being maintained on electronic logging devices (ELDs) as technology moves the industry into the future. There are exceptions to having a logbook, and an officer not trained to inspect paper logs or access electronic logs would have no use for them anyway. There are many other clues and questions an officer can use to determine if a truck driver is smuggling contraband in their truck. Simply delaying the stop by collecting paperwork without any other evidence is not a practice that should be preached.

Those officers who have questions about the paperwork should ask the driver or a trained truck enforcement officer to help them through the traffic stop. A driver who has nothing to hide will gladly help the officer navigate the paperwork so that they can get back to work faster. An officer investigating a truck for criminal activity should use the same methods they would as if it was a car.

The author does provide some useful officer safety tips for stopping trucks. Their large size creates a traffic hazard and it is critical for the officer to preplan where to stop the truck. Understanding that the driver may be trying to find a suitable spot to pull over is important for an officer to remember.

A driver knows his truck and how long it takes for him to merge back into traffic. Trucks are not only large, they are slow, and a police officer should be considerate at the conclusion of the traffic stop. Help the truck back into traffic. This basic principle of enforcement was left out of the article.

No police officer should conduct truck enforcement based on proving truck drivers are criminals. Truck enforcement is complex and those interested in conducting truck enforcement need to be trained and constantly updated to changing laws.

Keeping our roads safe when a commercial vehicle breaks a traffic law is every patrol officer’s responsibility. Encouraging enforcement beyond what an officer is legally allowed to enforce and based on flimsy stereotypes should never be published in respected police magazine. Isn’t that right, overweight doughnut eating cops? 🙂

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