clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Are state and feds tying police grant money to DUI arrest quotas?

Cecil Conner's defense attorney Jeff Tomczak addresses the media Tuesday evening in Joliet after Conner was found guilty in the death of Michael Langford Jr.| Michael R. Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

One DUI arrest every 10 hours.

Police call it an “objective.” Or a “guideline.”

Former Will County State’s Attorney Jeff Tomczak calls it a “quota.” And he said the language – found in the fine print of grants funding some suburban police patrols – could undermine drunken-driving cases when they reach a courtroom.

“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Tomczak, now a criminal defense attorney.

Local law enforcement officials say Tomczak’s wrong. Under a real quota system, officers get punished when the numbers don’t add up. That’s not the case here, they said, and there must be some way to find out if federal money has been spent wisely.

“There is no quota system in the Will County Sheriff’s Office,” Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas said.

But Tomczak’s not alone. The Governors Highway Safety Association also said the grant language should be changed, but not for fear of a legal challenge. Executive Director Barbara Harsha said the public simply might not like it if officers are told how often to make an arrest, and that could make the job harder for police.

“It causes them to get push-back,” Harsha said.

The grants in question are funded federally but distributed by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which wrote the “performance objectives” in the documents to offer some accountability to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The grants are designed to help police cut down on alcohol-related crashes and curb drivers’ dangerous behaviors.

A Will County IDOT grant from 2009-2010 said deputies were expected to write one ticket or warning each hour they were on patrol and make one drunk-driving arrest every 10 hours. Similar language can be found in grants given to Shorewood and Minooka around the same time.

But Kaupas said his agency didn’t quite meet that mark last year.

He said Will County made three DUI arrests in 157.5 officer hours during alcohol-enforcement details funded by IDOT in May, August and September. To meet the grant’s “performance objectives,” that number should have been more like 15 or 16.

He said there are myriad reasons officers might not meet IDOT’s numbers – including poor weather or a nearby crime needing their attention – and he’s not worried IDOT will pull its funding in 2012.

“You can’t just make something up,” Kaupas said. “It’s either out there or it’s not.”

Asked about the language, IDOT only said it takes the issue of drinking and driving very seriously.

“We have seen a steady reduction in DUI arrests and fatalities through our cooperation with local law enforcement throughout the state,” spokesman Guy Tridgell said.

Shorewood Cmdr. Eric Allen said his department considers the language a “performance standard,” nothing more. And Minooka Police Chief Justin Meyer said every grant has one. His department doesn’t participate in this grant anymore – opting out for lack of need – but he said he wasn’t troubled by the language.

“We try to protect everybody’s rights,” Meyer said. “We’re not going to violate people’s rights to meet some type of grant.”

Tomczak said defense attorneys like himself could use the grant to suggest officers are being compelled to make arrests.

He’s even made the argument himself, putting Will County Sgt. Steve Byland on the stand during a DUI case last month to talk about the traffic division Byland leads.

Byland told a judge his department has no quota system, but he said it would have to answer to a grant representative if the numbers fail to add up.

“If he does not make a certain rate per se,” Byland said, “then we would have to explain to him what happened that month.”

Kaupas said IDOT-funded details are always summarized in a report to the agency.

Tomczak’s client was eventually found not guilty. But Harsha said she hasn’t heard of a DUI arrest being thrown out of court for such language.

She did say IDOT should consider asking officers to make a certain number of traffic stops or “interactions” with the public – not arrests. She said most states steer away from the language used by Illinois.

“There’s no rule that says you can’t have an objective that has a certain number of arrests per hour,” Harsha said. “But it does give the appearance of having a quota.”