November 21, 2008
People used to laugh when a deputy was asked if he had a ticket quota and he replied, "Nah. They let me write as many as I want."
Only it may not be a joke here in McHenry County.
Frequently, you'll see a name in the Crime Reports published in the Northwest Herald or the Woodstock Independent and a long list of traffic charges for one traffic stop. Why would a deputy write 4-5-6-8 tickets to a driver for one traffic stop?
One of the reasons might be related to mud. If you throw enough mud on the wall, some of it will stick. When the driver gets to court and is facing eight tickets (possibility of eight convictions at, let's say, $100 each, plus $100-150 in court costs on EACH conviction), he might just be willing to accept about any plea bargain offered by the prosecutor (City Attorney or State's Attorney). You may even know the routine: "Plead guilty to two of them and we'll drop the rest."
The court costs in McHenry County are a rip-off. I've thought about sitting in traffic court with a calculator (a silent one, of course) and adding up the estimated court costs for a session's convictions. And the judges know that the court costs are a rip-off. They caution those in court right up front, before the first case is even called, that court costs are HIGH. They urge defendants not to get mad at them (the judges) or at the women at the Payment Counter. They just work there.
Who sets the high court costs? The State Legislature (gripe to Jack Franks, Mike Tryon, Pam Althoff) and the McHenry County Board. Look up your elected County Board member and gripe to him or her!
Where does all that money go? What's the split between the State and the County on the hundreds of thousands of dollars of court costs collected in McHenry County?
But who else benefits from all the tickets written? I've been hearing more and more about the Statistics Board at the sheriff's department, where a deputy's productivity is posted. Write a lot of tickets? Go to the head of the class.
It may not matter how many convictions result from the tickets. What counts is how many tickets are issued! And are there really extra points if the driver has a Hispanic last name?
Are promotions and transfers to elite assignments (SWAT, detectives, Gangs unit) based, at least in part, on the number of tickets written? Perhaps there needs to be another column on the Stats Board that records the number of convictions or Guilty pleas (and even those are suspect) for the number of tickets.
If a deputy writes three traffic tickets to a driver (starting with one for the high school graduation tassle hanging from the inside rearview mirror), and there is one conviction (and that one results in Supervision) and two get dropped, should a deputy really get a Gold Star for that work?
The tassle may just be a hassle. If the object does not really obstruct a driver's view of the roadway, is such an object really the cause for a traffic stop and citation? The Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/12-503(b) reads that such an object must "materially" obstruct the driver's view, but I'll venture that most drivers do not know this important word.
The judges do but, if a driver or his attorney doesn't bring it up, then the judge will rule based on testimony presented by the deputy and the prosecuting attorney.
You must know the law and know your rights.
But back to the Stats Board. The Public must know what occurs in the Training Room at its law enforcement agency. Find out. Next time you see a deputy having coffee or a meal, politely ask him about the Stats Board. Let me know what you find out.
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