By Steven Casstevens, Assistant Chief of Police, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
program that emphasizes traffic enforcement as a crime control measure is the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police program called “Looking Beyond the Safety Belt.” The program recognizes law enforcement officers who initiate a traffic stop based solely on a safety belt violation that then results in arrests for or discovery of other crimes. Over the past several years, several officers have been recognized for some outstanding police work as a result of such “routine” traffic stops. These officers are recognized each year at the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police summer conference as part of the Illinois Traffic Safety Challenge program. Agencies can nominate an officer at any time during the year.
In January 2006, Sergeant Timothy Gretz of the Buffalo Grove, Illinois, police department made a traffic stop on a driver not wearing a seat belt. Sergeant Gretz noticed two briefcases in the back seat; a business card identification tag attached to one did not match the name of the driver. After some questioning, the driver consented to a search of the vehicle, which revealed proceeds from residential burglaries. The driver was arrested and eventually confessed to 11 burglaries in Buffalo Grove and numerous others in the surrounding suburbs of Chicago.
In the same month, Illinois State Police Trooper Jason Bevard stopped a driver who was not wearing a seat belt. Two passengers were also in the vehicle. After stopping, the driver fled on foot and disappeared into a wooded area.One of the passengers was wanted on an active warrant. A search of the vehicle revealed a crack pipe and hypodermic syringes. After a lengthy investigation, the identity of the driver was determined. Officers also determined that the driver of the vehicle was wanted in connection with several burglaries and home invasions as well as a sexual assault. The driver was eventually arrested and pleaded guilty to home invasion and sexual assault and is serving 45 years with the Illinois Department of Corrections. Due to evidence found in the vehicle, the driver was also charged with a murder that occurred in Woodford County, Illinois.
These are just brief examples of the excellent police work that happens every day all across the United States. Criminals come and go in cars. If a local department is having a problem with gangs, drugs, or burglaries, it can quite often successfully mitigate these problems with an aggressive traffic enforcement policy. The IACP Highway Safety Committee still takes note of the fact that traffic-related issues continue to be citizens’ number one complaint to police.
Traffic enforcement is not just the job of traffic officers; it should be considered a useful option for every officer investigating a crime or suspicious circumstances. According to statistics from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 42,000 people were killed in traffic crashes during 2006 in the United States.1 Aggressive and proactive traffic enforcement is the greatest tool the law enforcement community has to prevent crashes, deaths and injuries as a result of crashes, and crime. No officer enjoys taking a fatal crash report.
In addition to preventing traffic crashes, traffic law enforcement also prevents crime. A three-year study in Hoffman Estates of the number of arrests made as a result of traffic stops initiated for a safety belt violation provided interesting details. During the period of January 2004 to December 2006, officers made 289 arrests as a result of stops for seat belt violations. This included 11 DUI arrests, 9 drug arrests, 34 misdemeanor and felony warrant arrests, and arrests of over 200 drivers with suspended or revoked driver’s licenses. This is in a department of 104 total sworn officers, with only 55 assigned to the patrol division. These statistics clearly demonstrate that traffic enforcement is in fact “real” police work.
Agencies should take the time to reexamine the issues they face and develop strong, clear, and nondiscriminatory traffic enforcement policies. Once the policies are in place, police departments can then easily model award programs after state association or IACP award programs to recognize the work of their officers. ¦
1U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Traffic Safety Facts, July 2007, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810791.PDF (accessed December 5, 2007).
|Illinois Traffic Safety Challenge|
The Illinois Traffic Safety Challenge is an annual highway safety awards program that recognizes law enforcement agencies for the efforts they make to address traffic safety issues in their jurisdiction. The following special awards are also presented each year by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Rookie of the Year: This award is presented to an agency entering the Illinois Traffic Safety Challenge for the first time, regardless of agency category. All first-time entries will be considered, and one will be chosen as the best first-time entry.
Impaired Driving Award: Agencies are judged on their efforts to address impaired driving through training, education, and enforcement. One agency is chosen for this award.
Speed Awareness Award: One agency is recognized for its special efforts to target the issue of speeding in its jurisdiction.
Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Award: One agency is recognized for its efforts to address bicycle safety and pedestrian safety in its jurisdiction through special education programs.
Commercial Vehicle Safety Award: One agency is recognized for its efforts to address overall commercial vehicle safety, including second-division vehicle safety belt use, equipment safety, and overweight/overdimension violations.
Judges Award: Each year, after all of the applications are judged in their specific categories, the judging team looks at the highest-scoring applications overall. The team then chooses one application that best represents a complete overall traffic safety program encompassing all aspects of highway safety, including officer training, policies and guidelines, enforcement, public information and education programs, and program effectiveness. Agencies may win this award only once every five years.
For more information, visit www.ilchiefs.org. For information on a similar program administered by the IACP, see the earlier sidebar on the National Law Enforcement Challenge.