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Police Discretion - Abused?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois Emergency Services Vehicles Motorcycles

Police Discretion - Abused?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
December 17, 2008


Back on September 26, 2008, the Northwest Herald reported an accident the previous day on Route 47 involving a van and a motorcycle. An Illinois State Police trooper was northbound on Route 47 on his police motorcycle and failed to slow before hitting a vehicle near Route 176.

There was no mention of citations in the article. Knowing that often citations are not issued to law enforcement officers who are involved in accidents and who are at fault in the accident, I called the press officer at the State Police district in Elgin for information. I had to call twice to reach her, only to find that she had no information about the accident.

On October 20 I contacted the trooper in charge of the motorcycle enforcement bureau, and he hadn't seen the accident report yet. He had requested the report a few earlier after receiving a message from me, and he told me he'd call me back after receiving it.

When he didn't call me back, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the State Police on November 11. On December 13 I received the response - a two-page, standard crash report.

The cause? "Failing to reduce speed to avoid crash."

The report does not indicate that any ticket was issued. Had a civilian run into the rear of a vehicle stopped in the highway and waiting to turn left, would he have been ticketed? Of course!

Should the trooper have been ticketed? Yes.

A ticket to a driver, even a trooper, is not a life-changing event. You just pay it and go on with your life. Many drivers, including troopers, drive a lot of miles in a year or in a career. For a trooper (or other law enforcement officer) not to be ticketed in an at-fault accident is a glaring error that indicates, to me, favoritism and abuse of the discretion granted to officers as to whether or not they should issue a ticket.

How does a trooper explain ticketing a civilian driver but not a fellow trooper? Would any defense attorney make hay on that one in court, if he were defending a driver cited by the investigating trooper?

When operating a motorcycle or driving a patrol car on patrol (not in pursuit), the driver is just like anyone else who is driving a motor vehicle as part of his employment. He is expected to obey all traffic rules. And he ought to experience same consequences as any other driver.

I'm once again reminded of the story of a rookie, black police officer in the South who got into an accident while enroute to a call. It was his fault, so he wrote himself a ticket. Where did he end up in police work? Chief of the Charleston (S.C.) Police Department! \



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