Friday, April 24, 2015

‘Mis-steak’: Trooper’s email prompts probe into incentivized enforcement

“Inspect the most commercial trucks. Win a steak dinner.”

That sums up a recent report in The Southern Illinoisan, a newspaper based in Carbondale, Ill., about an Illinois State Patrol officer’s scheme to help encourage his patrol division to perform commercial motor vehicle inspections.

The paper was alerted to the contest when an Illinois state trooper accidently distributed the email announcing the winners to a list of media contacts. The trooper, Officer Greg Miller, sent out a second email shortly thereafter asking media to “disregard” the email (which for journalists is akin to waving a hunk of, well, steak in front of the nose of a hungry bear).

Reporter Molly Parker was gracious enough to share with us the emails The Southern Illinoisan received on April 16 from Miller. Here’s the initial email:

“March MCS total per squad

Squad A 65 (winner)

Squad B 42

Squad C 54

Squad D 40

I know this contest was a little painful for some of you to participate in since not everyone likes doing trucks. I want to thank everyone who put forth an effort to participate and help with your squad totals. Congratulations to Squad A for winning the steak dinner. There will be more contests throughout the year covering different activity categories.”

Three minutes later, according to the time stamps on the emails, Miller sent out a one-sentence plea asking media to “disregard” the previous email.

Those of you who regularly read or get updates from Land Line already know we’ve been covering bills in several statehouses that would explicitly prohibit law enforcement from instituting so-called “quotas” on enforcement activity.

As it turns out, Illinois already has such legislation on the books, according to State Police Sgt. Mike Link, which prohibits the police force from requiring “a specific number of citations within a designated period of time.”

“This was not a ‘contest’ offered by a patrol division,” Link said in an email response to Land Line. “The Trooper in this instance, who does not hold a supervisory position, was simply attempting to motivate his peers to perform safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles (CMV). We are not aware of any similar challenges. ... The Illinois State Police does not promote the use of rewards to encourage enforcement activity.”

Link said that the state police have launched an investigation to determine whether the steak dinner might have violated policy, and that Trooper Miller is not on any sort of administrative leave pending the inquiry.

“The ISP does not support any type of enforcement-related quota system nor do we encourage any enforcement action which targets a specific demographic,” Link wrote. “Our goal is to provide safe highways for all of the motoring public by reducing injuries and fatalities.”

Link also stated that squads are made up of anywhere from five to 12 troopers, which would be a pretty hefty bill at even a low-end steakhouse. (Link told The Southern Illinoisan that the ISP believes the steak dinners would have been a personal purchase and “no state resources would have been utilized” so hopefully those guys at District 22 have a “Swear Jar” or some other kind of fund where they’ve been saving loose change to pay for a dozen Porterhouses.)

He also stated that the troopers in Miller’s district conducted a total of 224 commercial vehicle inspections during March. Of those, 243 written warnings and 39 citations were issued, including 15 out-of-service violations (four for both truck and driver; six driver-only and five truck-only), or roughly 6.7 percent of all the trucks and drivers that were stopped.

While it may not be a “quota” system in the classic sense, the idea of incentivizing cops to perform enforcement operations stinks like a slaughterhouse (The Illinoisan editorial board concurs, filing a scathing editorial on Tuesday that says such a policy is “past its expiration date.”)

Motorists in general, and truckers in particular, should not be seen as a cash cow for supplementing state revenues.