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The Lone Wolf

The lone wolf. Every occupation has them. The guy who wants to be out there, on his own, with no accountability. The concern isn’t for people who thrive on working independently. The concern is for those who chose to disconnect from their peers. It’s the truck officer who has the exceptional authority to enforce truck laws, but no community of accountability to make sure it is done with excellence. Sometimes it blows up, and the article this week describes just such a situation.

While there is no joy in writing this article, bad situations need to be examined so one police officer can learn from the mistakes of another. The article this week focuses on a truck officer who was not trained by the ITEA, not a member of the ITEA and not certified by the ITEA. You choose which model of lawman you want performing truck enforcement in Illinois…the officer from last week’s article, or the officer from this one?

This past fall, a trucking member of the ITEA was towing an RV trailer from the manufacturer in Indiana to their dealership in Wisconsin on the hitch of a pickup truck. The truck was bearing 10,000 pound Wisconsin base plates. To their own shame, the company forgot to put the Wisconsin dealer plate on the trailer, and were stopped by the police.

Was this a legitimate reason for a traffic stop? Yes. Was there a violation of registration which could be cited? Yes. However, what occurred next was highly unfortunate.

First, after the driver showed the officer the dealer plate (which was in the truck instead of displayed on the trailer), the officer refused to allow him to mount it. Poor discretion.

Second, the officer told the driver that neither the Wisconsin base plate nor the dealer plate were allowed to be displayed in Illinois, therefore the entire combination was overweight on registration from pound zero. The fine assessed was in excess of $700. Poor interpretation of the law.

Third, after weighing the truck, the officer impounded the trailer until the company came and paid the overweight fine (and impoundment fees) weeks later. Poor police methodology…the law does not allow for this.

So what does the law say? When it comes to registered weight, foreign (meaning out of state) base plates may be operated in Illinois unless three things occur: 1.   The power unit has 3 or more axles. In this instance, the power unit had two. 2.   The gross combined weight on the scale is greater than 26,000 pounds. In this case, it was not as the officer weighed the vehicles and it was less. 3.   The vehicle is making an “intrastate” move with the load. In this situation, it was entirely interstate.

The only registration violation which should have been cited was for improper display of registration for not displaying the dealer plate on the RV trailer. Can a Wisconsin dealer plate be lawfully displayed on a vehicle in Illinois? Yes. These are called “restricted plates”(625 ILCS 5/3-400) which require the Wisconsin dealer to be using the plate appropriately as if it was an Illinois dealer plate…and it was. See Administrative Rule 1010.450.

After weighing the truck, the officer had the RV trailer towed by their municipal towing contractor and it was impounded. The officer informed the driver of the fine and told him when the fine was paid, they would release the trailer.

When the ITEA contacted the officer to get his side of the story, he immediately became defensive. He stated he was a certified truck officer by the State of Illinois. He said he had been doing it this way for years without any problems.

In regards to the impoundment, the officer even went so far as to say the trucking company voluntarily had the trailer impounded for safekeeping. However, when asked if he would release the trailer when the company brought appropriate registration, he said it could not leave. This action tacked on several weeks of impoundment fees in addition to the overweight fine. Insult added to injury.

Then came the deflection. He said his boss told him what he did was okay and that he needed to impound the trailer. He even offered to have the ITEA speak to his supervisor.

So the ITEA representative did just that. Turns out the supervisor was not fully apprised of the situation, did not understand the truck laws and did not authorize the officer to impound the trailer. However, like a standup boss, she blindly defended her officer.

In the end, the police refused to let the trailer go until the bail (and impoundment fees) were paid. Think how different this would have turned out had the officer humbly listened to reason like the officer in last week’s article and have not injured anyone, since now a days people can get an Edinburg, tx personal injury defense attorney to resolve legal matters like this for them. Or like countless other class act police officers in Illinois have done when they made mistakes like all humans do.

While these situations do not happen every day, they carry a huge ripple effect. The image of Illinois police officers is now tarnished in the eyes of a legitimate company from Wisconsin. They see Illinois truck officers as revenue bullies.

Exceptional authority demands exceptional accountability. It dangerous when the second part is lacking.

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