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Traffic Laws - for Cops, too (Really?)

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Traffic Laws - for Cops, too (Really?)

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
July 1, 2007

Let’s say that you are driving on a major two-lane McHenry County road and you spot a friend stopped on the shoulder, facing toward you. You recognize the car and see your friend behind the driver’s wheel. There is no one coming, so you swing over onto the wrong side of the roadway and stop with your driver’s door next to the driver’s door of your friend’s car. The weather is nice, traffic is light, and you enjoy a nice conversation with your friend, who has just stopped his car to enjoy the scenery for a while.

A few cars are coming along toward you and have to stop, because you are blocking their traffic lane. They have to stop and wait, because other traffic, traveling in the same direction as you were, slows down to see what’s going on and then passes by.

Then a McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy comes along. He sees your car stopped in the oncoming traffic lane on the county road and sees a line of cars stopped, waiting to pull around you. What do you suppose the deputy does? Drive on by? Wave at the drivers? Wonder what’s going on? Or does he flip on his emergency lights, stop and tell you to pull back onto the correct side of the road and then onto the shoulder, where he writes you at least one, perhaps more than one, ticket?

Now let’s change this scene a little.

Let’s say that a McHenry County Jail prisoner work group is cleaning up trash and litter along Barnard Mill Road in Ringwood. Let’s say it’s Thursday morning, June 28, 2007, and about 9:45AM. Prisoners are wearing the orange jump suits, so you know they are prisoners. One deputy with a white shirt is standing on the south shoulder near the west end of the group of prisoners working on that side of the road. Other prisoners are working on the north side of the roadway. A sheriff’s department squad car is parked on the north shoulder, facing west.

The sheriff’s department squad car parked on the shoulder is Unit #568. As you approach from the west, you see a second sheriff’s department squad car stopped in the roadway. He is parked in the westbound lane of Barnard Mill Road, facing east. He is completely blocking the westbound lane of traffic. He is stopped so that the driver’s door of his squad car is next to the driver’s door of the squad car parked on the north shoulder. The drivers are engaged in conversation.

As you approach, you see vehicles in the westbound lane that have been forced to stop because the deputy in Squad car #551 is blocking the road. You don’t see any emergency lights on either vehicle. You are eastbound and your lane is clear, so you proceed past slowly and wonder what emergency exists that the driver in Unit #551 has stopped to block the roadway.

Continuing on your way, you telephone the sheriff’s department and ask to speak with the command officer in charge of the Patrol Division. You are transferred to the telephone of a woman who answers “Patrol” but does not identify herself. You specifically ask that the message (complaint) be given to the command officer. When she says that she’ll give it to someone to look into it, you repeat your request that it go to the command officer.

About ten minutes later a sergeant calls back and asks what’s going on. Didn’t he get the full message from the secretary? You explain about the deputy being stopped illegally in the roadway and clocking traffic. You have to ask the sergeant if he doesn’t see something wrong with this picture.

Am I making all this up? No way. On Thursday morning this is exactly what happened.

I did raise the hackles of the sergeant by being flip and saying there was no apparent emergency and perhaps the two deputies were just arranging a “donut run.” Boy! Did he ever take offense?!!!

The sergeant attempted to guess that the deputy in the car blocking the road was investigating something involving the safety of the jail deputies guarding the prisoners. Since the deputy on foot was showing no alarm and was not even standing near the closest prisoner, I knew there had been no emergency response. Since the deputy was parked in the road so close to the parked squad car on the shoulder, neither deputy could get out of his vehicle in a hurry, if the prisoners took off.

By stopping in the roadway and blocking the flow of westbound traffic, the risk to the public was actually increased. What if a prisoner had decided to carjack a stopped car, brandishing his rake or shovel?

I asked the sergeant to check out what was really going on and suggested he ought to tell the deputy who had parked illegally to write himself a ticket. That’s for sure not going to happen.

To me, this appeared to be a clear demonstration of abuse of police authority. The deputy knew he could stop in the roadway and block traffic because who is going to challenge him? Who is going to ticket him? The deputy sitting in the squad car that’s parked legally on the shoulder? No way! The deputy guarding the prisoners? No way? A passing State Trooper? No way! You’ve heard of professional courtesy; right?

So the deputy in Unit #551 can do what he wants, when he wants, and get away with it, when a private citizen who did the same thing would find himself on the receiving end of a ticket.

Is this fair?

Hmmm, as I write this, I am wondering whether the $100 Bounty offered on my head at the sheriff’s department in January will be re-instated or even raised?

Are there any deputies in the sheriff’s department who agree with me?

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