9 - Palos Heights Police Department - Illinois

SITE DESCRIPTION

Palos Heights is a small community, located to the southwest of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois. The community has a population of approximately 12,000 persons and covers only four square miles of land. The town encompasses the Lake Katherine Nature Preserve and lies adjacent to the Cook County Forest Preserve. Lake Katherine is a 90-acre area of land designed and built in 1985 to restore and beautify an unsightly area along the Calumet-Sag Channel.

LEA DESCRIPTION

The Palos Heights Police Department employs 29 full-time and three part-time sworn officers. The patrol division has 18 assigned officers and is primarily responsible for traffic enforcement. The town boasts one of the lowest crime rates in Cook County, which the Department believes is linked directly to their strong enforcement of traffic laws. We received traffic citation data (DUI, safety belt, and speed citations) for nine years, 1991-1999. At the beginning of this nine year period, staffing levels within the department were at full capacity, but these levels declined over a subsequent three to four year period. Low morale within the Department was reportedly a problem, which was remedied in part by the appointment of a new Chief in 1997. A renewed commitment to traffic enforcement resulted in 1997 and is continuing at this point in time.

In 1999, the Department created the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program in order to create a more comprehensive traffic enforcement program. This team consists of four officers and one sergeant and is responsible for preparing a pro-active selective traffic enforcement schedule for the community. This program determines areas throughout the city that have specific traffic needs and designs enforcement solutions in response to those needs. The goal is to increase voluntary compliance to local and state traffic laws via saturated patrols in these areas.

Illinois has a state-wide secondary safety belt law, meaning law enforcement officers may cite drivers and passengers for not wearing safety belts only when the vehicle has been stopped for some other reason (e.g., speeding, equipment violation). But in October 1998, Palos Heights passed a local safety belt ordinance that allowed for primary enforcement of safety belt violations within the community (i.e., vehicles could be stopped solely because drivers and/or passengers were not wearing safety belts and those individuals could be cited; no other cause was needed). Palos Heights was one of 30 communities throughout Illinois to pass this ordinance as part of an ongoing movement which is attempting to enact a statewide primary enforcement law for safety belts. The Palos Heights Police Department vigorously enforces this ordinance.

TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT TRENDS

The combined total of all traffic citations from 1991 through 1999 shows a declining trend as indicated in Figure 55 below.

Figure 55: Palos Heights Police Department, 1991-1999

Figure 55: Palos Heights Police Department, 1991-1999d

However, it is important to note that the Department was at maximum staffing levels during 1991 and 1992, which the Chief reported then steadily declined over the next few years. In 1997, command emphasis became more focused on traffic law enforcement with the appointment of a new Chief. Reportedly, low morale among the officers had affected the level of law enforcement directly. Traffic law enforcement in all categories is seen to steadily increase since 1997.

As shown in Figure 56, in 1991, more than 2,000 speeding citations were issued by the Palos Heights Police Department. At that time, the community was very vocal about the need for speed enforcement along a specific stretch of road entering the town. The four-lane roadway carries traffic entering Palos Heights from an unincorporated area of the County. The speed limit drops from 55 mph to 35 mph in a short distance, and there are no guard rails along the road. Motorists were known to travel this road at very high speeds and the public became increasingly outspoken about the need for greater police presence in the area. For a period of six months, the Department heavily increased its enforcement as can be seen by the high number of citations issued that year. Enforcement is seen to spike again in 1995 with over 1,500 speeding citations issued. This was attributed to another increased enforcement effort along the same stretch of roadway.

Figure 56: Palos Heights Police Department - Speed Citations, 1991-1999

Figure 56: Palos Heights Police Department - Speed Citations, 1991-1999d

DUI violations increased between 1991 and 1992, which could be attributable to the increased speed enforcement discussed earlier. The Department reports that when speed enforcement efforts increase, the numbers of DUI arrests also typically increase. DUI arrests also increased in 1998 and 1999.

Figure 57: Palos Heights Police Department - DUI Violations, 1991-1999

Figure 57: Palos Heights Police Department - DUI Violations, 1991-1999d

As reported earlier, in October 1998, Palos Heights passed a local safety belt ordinance that allowed for primary enforcement of safety belt violations within the community. As indicated in Figure 58 below, after the passage of the ordinance, the number of citations issued for safety belt violations shot up.

Figure 58: Palos Heights Police Department - Total Safety Belt Citations, 1991-1999

Figure 58: Palos Heights Police Department - Total Safety Belt Citations, 1991-1999d

Figure 59 shows the number of citations issued for adult and child restraint safety belt violations. As in other jurisdictions, almost all citations were written for adult violations.

Figure 59: Palos Heights Police Department - Safety Belt Citations by Type, 1991-1999

Figure 59: Palos Heights Police Department - Safety Belt Citations by Type, 1991-1999d

SUMMARY

While Palos Heights was the smallest community participating in this project, the Police Department there illustrates the importance of command emphasis on traffic law enforcement efforts. Without the support at the highest levels within a Department, large or small, the level of effort can dwindle. The current Chief has reiterated his enthusiastic support for enforcement of traffic laws and the Department has responded with highly significant increases in the number of citations issued for traffic law violations. Thus, this Department appears to have reversed direction and may be at the beginning of an upward trend in the enforcement of traffic laws within the community. This can be seen by examining Figure 55. Prior to 1997, all traffic citations issued showed a declining trend. This was reversed by the change in command emphasis and citations are now on an upward trend.