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Woodstock PD - bringing in the big bucks

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Woodstock PD - bringing in the big bucks

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
March 16, 2009

What's happening within the Woodstock Police Department?

Every month the Chief Lowen makes a report to the City Council. You can read it in the packet that goes to each member of the City Council for the first City Council meeting of the month. If you go to the Library or City Hall, it's there on the Friday before the first Tuesday of the month. If you go to the Library, go to the Reference Desk on the first floor, in the back, and ask for it. You can't check it out, but you can read it there.

General information is sometimes helpful. Raw numbers can be interesting. What really tells the story, though, is the comparison of numbers - the percentage, or the percentage difference.

For example, when January 2009 calls for service are compared to December 2008, there were 105 fewer calls in January. The decrease is 6.8%. Of course, a decline for one month can be off-set by a huge jump in another month.

How about tavern checks: 277 in January, compared to 191 in January. That's a 45% increase. Why? Which taverns are being clobbered with police attention? I wonder what the tavern owners think.

DUIs? Only three in January; none in February. No DUI arrests? Did all the drunks stop driving in January and February? Maybe the increase in tavern checks reduced the number of drunk drivers. But what about all the drunk drivers passing through?

There is a general category of "Other traffic arrests". In December 239 traffic arrests were made; in January, 362! What could account for a 51.5% increase? And this was before the February "initiative" (crackdown) on aggressive and dangerous drivers was announced.

And lowly parking tickets? After slacking off in December and issuing only 160, the troops got busy in January and issued 270; that's a 68.8% increase! Where did they find 270 parking violators in Woodstock? Seeing a grid of locations and times would be interesting.

And the fines for parking violations? $3,625 in December, but only $3,090 in January. A 68% increase in the number of tickets, but a 15% drop in fines. The average fine for a parking ticket in December was $22.66. The average fine for a parking ticket in January was $11.44. Most likely, a two-month period is too short for a valid comparison, due to timing of tickets issued and when they were paid. Maybe fines lag issuance by a month. It does kind of make me wonder about the type of parking ticket issued in January.

Stolen property in December? $24,413. In January, $65,021 - a 166.3% increase! I'll skip the low recovery rate on stolen property.

From the 51% increase in "Other traffic arrests" it appears that the Police Department is becoming a funds generating entity, a money-making department, a profit center for the City of Woodstock. Just what we need; right? Who will be first to order a new license plate: BOUNTY.

I wonder if the City Council is aware of the movement of the police department into a revenue-generation scheme. Or did it direct that movement? Ticket quotas are illegal but, if a beat officer happened to be required to write seven (7) $75.00 tickets on his shift, that's a total of $525 in fines and well over $1,000 in potential court costs, if the drivers go to court and lose. Most drivers will just fork over the $75.00, as I did two years ago, and not take a chance in court - and not take a day off without pay to go to court and fight the ticket.

Think the cops don't have this figured out already? But it's not the street cops, the beat cops, who are making the rules. I'll bet they don't like quotas. I'll bet they even know that ticket quotas are illegal. But how do you argue with your sergeant? If he tells you that your quota is seven, then you'd better not come back in without those seven. Better keep your personal journal up-to-date with who ordered what, and when.

And how about an officer who is detailed to a traffic assignment? All he is supposed to do is write traffic tickets. Let's say he just happened to have a quota is ten (10) tickets on his shift. And let's say he is more aggressive than just writing tickets for failing to use a turn signal in a demand turn lane. He gets busy and writes a few for illegal use of the center, two-way, left-turn lane, grabs one every once in a while for running a red light, gets a speeder occasionally. Maybe his average fine is $100. Ten $100 tickets equal $1,000 in fines, and another potential $1,500 in court costs if they all go to court (which they won't).

So three beat officers (3 x $525) and one traffic car ($1,000) = $2,575/day in fines. Figuring 30 days in a month, that's $77,250/month, and that's $927,000 in a year. Give or take a few $$$. And this is not including court costs!

How much of that filters back to Woodstock from McHenry County Traffic Court? And how much will stay here if a bunch of those are written under Local Ordinances and adjudicated in Woodstock's new Court that was approved at the March 3rd City Council meeting?

Do officers still have discretion to issue a Warning? Or are they now required to issue a ticket on every traffic stop? There's a good way to find out. A FOIA Request should obtain accurate information. Let's see.... how about 1) How many traffic stops were made last month? 2) How many tickets were written? 3) How many written Warnings were issued? Better yet - how about those numbers on a monthly basis for the past 6-12 months?

Has something changed recently at the Woodstock PD?

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