MORRIS – Morris police officer Ben Wiechen knows, when he flips on his blue and red lights, people presume the worst.
“It’s a perception. They just assume, automatically, that they are getting a ticket,” Wiechen said.
“Really, I don’t write a whole lot of tickets,” he added.
Wiechen is a traffic officer, trained to keep the roads safe, but that’s not always what drivers think he’s doing.
People tend to believe traffic police, such as Wiechen, issue citations to meet a daily ticket quota. Not true in Morris, Wiechen said.
“We’ve don’t have ticket quotas in this department. You have to produce a certain number of stops, but you’re not required to write tickets,” he said.
As of three months ago, all police agencies in Illinois became akin to the Morris Police Department – quota-less.
Legislation signed in June prohibits police departments from requiring ticket quotas and evaluating officers based on the number of arrests they make.
The senate bill was co-sponsored by state Rep. John Anthony, R-Plainfield, a former Kendall County Sheriff’s deputy.
Before the law, police departments in Illinois could, and would, require officers to meet daily ticket quotas, Anthony said. He heard from some agencies in his district who were upset when the law passed.
But as a former officer, Anthony believes quotas disrupt the relationship between officers and community members.
He hopes the new law will instead build trust.
“Trust is the basis of any good relationship,” Anthony said. “And I think ticket quotas got in the way of that.”
But the new law has not changed the way Grundy County police do their jobs.
Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan said his department never required deputies to meet a citation quota.
Instead, the sheriff’s department expects traffic officers to make at least one “contact” every hour for a 12-hour shift.
“I guess you can look at that as like a quota, but it’s really not because it’s at the discretion of the deputy whether he wants to issue a written warning or a citation,” Callahan said.
As a Morris traffic officer, Wiechen said he is typically required to make 15 contacts on a shift.
For Morris officers, a “contact” goes beyond pulling someone over. Morris Police Chief Brent Dite said many community interactions are considered contacts.
“We have officers that will stop into a business, just to check and see how things are going. We would consider that a community contact,” Dite said.
“I think those are very beneficial because it gives members of the community an opportunity to speak with a police officer about problems. If they didn’t have that contact with that officer, they wouldn’t be able to get that information to them,” he continued.
Creating more community involvement is exactly what the legislation intended, Anthony said.
“Now it’s more about points of contact, meaning traffic stops, arrests, crime prevention measures. I think that’s what we need to get back to when it comes to policing,” he said.
Both Callahan and Dite said they use several measures in their officer evaluations. When it comes to traffic officers, both said they use data to assign officers to areas prone to accidents or reckless driving.
Wiechen said when passing drivers see someone pulled over – regardless of whether he is writing a ticket – they will often slow down or put away their phones, afraid of getting caught themselves.
In the end, Wiechen said safety should be any traffic officer’s number one priority.
“That’s the end goal – to keep people safe and alive,” he said.