How Federal Grant Money leads to many traffic stops in hopes of making a rare DUI arrest

Angela Caputo of the Tribune has another story (and sadly, once again blocked behind its paywall) that explores the wastefulness and poor policy choices that lead to DUI roadblocks and an increase in traffic stops in the hope of getting DUI arrests, even though only 3 percent of stops lead to a DUI arrest.

Here are some excerpts from the Tribune story:

For six years, police from north suburban Skokie outpaced most municipalities across the state when it came to citing drivers during federally backed drunken driving patrols. But just a small fraction were busted for driving under the influence.

On average, officers wrote 29 citations for every drunken driving arrest they made. That amounted to 3 percent of 14,000 citations logged. A Tribune investigation found that Illinois drivers — from Chicago and its suburbs to sleepy downstate communities — who are stopped during special DUI patrols and sobriety checkpoints are most likely to be cited for not carrying insurance, a broken taillight or other minor infractions, rather than drunken driving.

Skokie police hit their required ticket quotas and the department was awarded $853,000 worth of grant money, mostly to cover overtime pay to operate roadside sobriety checkpoints and other patrols. Across the state, 270,000 citations were issued through similar patrols, 93 percent of which were for offenses less serious than drunken driving.

Critics questions whether the low number of arrests that the Tribune identified through an analysis of state reports are worth the imposition on drivers pulled over without probable cause — particularly during sobriety checkpoints. They wonder if there are other motives for the special patrols such as raising ticket revenue…

The number of non-DUI tickets issued through DUI patrols and checkpoints, which are scheduled around peak drunken driving times mostly around holidays, is significant. In 2012, the state placed additional emphasis on seat belt enforcement as part of the DUI patrols and checkpoints.

Ten police agencies — led by Chicago, Skokie, Elgin, Will County, Waukegan and Illinois State Police — accounted for more than half, or 148,000, of all citations reported in Illinois during special DUI patrols and checkpoints from 2008 to 2013, an analysis of the most recent statewide records show. On average, 5 percent of the citations logged by those agencies resulted in a DUI arrest.

Within local departments, the rate of DUI arrests and costs varied.

Elgin police, for example, reported issuing virtually the same number of citations — more than 13,000 — as their counterparts in Skokie but arrested more than twice as many drunken drivers. Elgin Cmdr. Ana Lalley considered the department’s DUI arrest rate a success. The department spent, on average, $531 in federal grants per DUI arrest.

Will County sheriff’s officers recorded more than 10,000 citations and snared 715 drunken drivers, spending, on average, $1,120 in federal grants per arrest. In Waukegan, police reported issuing nearly 8,000 citations, 890 of which were DUI arrests.

Wheeling also made the top 10, charting nearly 7,000 citations, which led to 403 DUI arrests. The other agencies with the most citations were downstate.

Federal officials haven’t attached ticket quotas to the grant money for DUI crackdowns, but state transportation officials said they have adopted quotas as a “performance measure” to ensure accountability.
Last year, a commander from northwest suburban Des Plaines was convicted of padding DUI arrest numbers so the department could collect the federal grant money. At his sentencing hearing, his attorney attributed his actions to pressure to meet quotas.

Since then, ticket quotas have been abolished in Illinois with one exception: grant funded policing initiatives including the special DUI patrols. Most agencies are required to issue one citation every 60 minutes and make one DUI arrest for every 10 hours of patrol.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, said he co-sponsored the measure to eliminate quotas after hearing “horror stories of departments using traffic tickets as a revenue source.”

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