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Truck Enforcement is not Traffic Enforcement

Earlier this year, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police published an article in their Command magazine written by the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association. The article discussed how a local town can implement a successful truck enforcement program to control the weight on the shipments. For the next several weeks, this blog will expand on each of the five points necessary to accomplish this task using vehicle weighing scales in different points along the roads.

Imagine this: a police officer from an agency 150 sworn officers graduates from the police academy. After dressing for his first day on the street, the investigations supervisor informs the officer he will be the lead investigator for a recent murder case. Ludicrous? You better believe it.

Not to pour cold water on the aspirations of a rookie police officer, but these are not realistic expectations in his career. Why? Because being the lead homicide investigator requires a certain set of skills not possessed by green policemen.

The goal is not to compare truck officers to that of a skilled homicide detective. However, too often police administrators minimize the skills necessary to perform high quality truck enforcement and relegate the job to traditional traffic officers. Officers who may not have the appropriate training or desire/willingness to even do trucks.

Yes, trucks are part of the highway traffic scheme just like cars, but the laws governing each are not apples to apples. Traditional traffic enforcement does not levy potential fines in the tens of thousands of dollars or impede federally protected interstate commerce for extended periods of time.

Police officers in Illinois are given the exceptional authority to stop a vehicle, which deprives a motorist of his constitutional right to liberty, for little more than a mere hunch of being overweight. The police officer can then order the driver to follow him to a scale 5 or 10 miles away and compel him weigh. If the officer is correct, the driver now owes an incredible amount of money in fines. If the officer is wrong, the officer gets to say “see ya later, my bad”. Nowhere else in police work does one find that kind of authority. It’s truly incredible.

Here’s another illustration. The printed version of the Illinois Criminal Code (720 ILCS), has five pages which discuss murder. The truth is murder is not a complicated crime. The elements of the offense are quite simple, but properly investigating the murder is far from basic.

When justice is being sought for a life taken by another, the public has an expectation of competent police work. When an arrest is made for murder, the defendant has the right to know the detectives followed the law and did an exhaustive investigation. His life is on the line.

In comparison, the printed version of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS) has over eighty pages of laws about trucks! Truck law is immensely complicated, and it requires a high level of skill to enforce correctly. The inability for a police officer to enforce it competently results in tragic consequences for the one accused.

Just like the murder victim’s families expect a proper police investigation, the truck driver and/or his company deserve to know the police officers enforcing truck laws are solid before they are assessed massive fines or being taken off the route to a job.

All police officers should receive training in proper enforcement of universal traffic law like speeding, seatbelts and distracted driving when the infractions are committed by truck drivers. On August 18th and 19th, the ITEA will be conducting ten, free one-hour courses at the ILACP expo in Tinley Park, IL for patrol officers on this topic.

The enforcement of truck-exclusive laws like size, weight and CDLs should be reserved for those officers who are specially trained and resourced. Just being a member of a “traffic unit” and attending a 40-hour basic truck enforcement course does not make one qualified to perform truck enforcement.

High quality truck enforcement is not a part-time job. It is understood that many police agencies cannot dedicate a police officer full-time to truck enforcement due to manpower issues. That is not an excuse though.

A thorough understanding of trucks and truck law takes a lot of time and effort to perfect. It’s a “use it or lose it” education. It sounds conceited, but the failure of the police to protect truck drivers from erroneous enforcement is just that – failure.

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