“No-quota” law having negative effects, as predicted

April 1, 2019
By James R. Kruger, Jr.
Chief of Police, Village of Oak Brook
Immediate Past President, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police

Over the past couple of years we have seen an uptick in news stories about traffic crashes, wrong way drivers, distracted driving, pedestrian strikes and now another dedicated young state trooper killed on the highway. We have to ask ourselves, why is this happening, and what can we do about it?

You don’t have to wait long after you pull out of your driveway before you run into common and frustrating experiences. The car ahead of you is wavering in the lane, and you can see the driver’s head is down and the unmistakable glow, or you have the green light and right of way through an intersection, when you have to hit the brakes because a right turning driver on the cross street didn’t stop first and yield before proceeding, and in most cases sped up to try to beat you to make their turn before you got to the intersection. And one of my all-time favorites, using a turn signal has now become bothersome and a waist of effort to push on that little lever on the left side of the steering column. These are just a few observations, but you get the point. The real question is, how did we get there? 

Many of us in law enforcement for years took for granted that traffic enforcement was part of the job. It was one of the legs of the three “E’s” of traffic safety; engineering, education, and enforcement. As a young patrol officer, I took this responsibility seriously and as a chief I consistently tell my officers that traffic safety just isn’t about writing tickets or enforcing the traffic laws, but it’s about crime prevention and detection. There have been a myriad of studies that have shown that when a police department is serious about traffic enforcement, crime goes down. The public is aware that officers are out on the street being proactive, and observing violations that may lead to the apprehension of a burglar, a drug dealer, or taking illegal guns off the street. 

However, there has been a change on the enforcement side of the last several years. On January 1, 2015, the No Quota bill by the Illinois General Assembly went into effect. (65 ILCS 5/11-1-12) This bill eliminated a tool for police administrators to use traffic enforcement activity as one measure of performance when evaluating an officer’s work quality. Since no one likes getting a ticket, many members of the public would be happy about this law, and that fact gave cover to members of the General Assembly so that they could vote for this bill with full support of their constituents. Police administrators tried to explain to legislators that we also did not believe in quotas, and if there were any out there, they were a one off and a mischaracterization. We did utilize citations as a measure, but only as it pertained to a minimum acceptable level of performance, and also how one officer's effort may compare to the work group. They were only used as one dimension of a performance appraisal. We further explained that, in time, the passage of this bill would lead to a reduction in traffic enforcement and an increase in crashes and danger on the roadways.

Well fast forward four years later. County circuit court clerks all over the state are concerned because their fee collections are down, which pay for domestic violence courts and counseling, continuing police training, public health, drug courts, and the cost of running the clerk’s office, all related to the number of traffic citations being down nearly 25%. Add the financial impact to the counties, which will then fall back onto the tax payers, with the traffic safety crisis and it doesn’t take long to figure out the cause and effect.

Police leaders have been bringing these traffic safety concerns to light only to be shouted down by special interest groups and union lobbyists that we were making it up. But the truth is, traffic safety is becoming a social issue and one in which I am not only concerned about the overall effects to the community but also to our police officers’ safety as well. 

As law enforcement is only one of the “E’s” we must reach out to the manufacturers of emergency lighting equipment as well. They must collectively take a look at whether the newer LED lighting is causing any issues for passing motorists as compared to the old oscillating incandescent lighting. Is there a technology answer to the cell phone distracted driving epidemic to deactivate texting when in motion? And what can we do as a society to get people into the habit of following Scott’s Law? As the tollway message boards are reminding us this week, “Enough is Enough”, “Slow Down and Move Over” sixteen crashes and three fatalities in three months’ time is a travesty, and that number doesn’t include any county or municipal crashes. Traffic safety must be taken seriously before the next life is needlessly lost. 

Chief Kruger published this column on LinkedIn, and it is reprinted here with his permission.