After seeing the results of a five-day patrol in the local construction zone on Interstate 70, the Fayette County Board agreed to support future interstate patrols.
After a presentation by Sheriff Chris Smith and Chief Deputy Chris Palmer, the board agreed to both amend the current budget to include patrol expenses and to factor in those expenses in creating the new budget.
And, while Smith and Palmer showed how the interstate patrols can create additional revenue for the county, they also touted other benefits.
The board decided to amend this year’s budget to include $20,000 in expenses and $60,000 in revenue, and to consider in the new budget an expense of $45,000 and revenues in the range of $400,000 and $600,000.
Those actions were approved in an 8-1 vote with Chairman Jeff Beckman, Jennifer Waggoner, Bryce Kistler, Glenda Bartels, Jake Harris, Pat Click, Glen “Whitey” Daniels and Dean Bernhardt voting for them, and Merrell Collins casting the lone dissenting vote.
In a five-day period at the end of September and beginning of October, part-time deputy Carson Thomas patrolled the construction zone between Vandalia’s two exits on Interstate 70.
Smith and Palmer presented a report showing 113 citations issued in the 55-mph construction zone in those five days.
The citations issued were:
• 70 mph – 3.
• 71 mph – 3.
• 72 mph – 8.
• 73 mph – 20.
• 74 mph – 8.
• 75 mph – 20.
• 76 mph – 12.
• 77 mph – 9.
• 78 mph – 4.
• 79 mph – 3.
• 80 mph – 6.
• 81 mph – 2.
• 83 mph – 1.
• 84 mph – 2.
• 85 mph – 3.
• 86 mph – 1.
• 87 mph – 1.
• Suspended drivers – 3.
• No insurance – 3.
• Improper passing – 2.
At the outset of a lengthy discussion during the board’s finance committee meeting on Tuesday, Bruce DeLashmit of Bellwether, the county’s administrative assistant, noted that the interstate patrols came up more than a year ago.
“And I accept responsibility for that,” DeLashmit said.
“The board made a decision not to have patrolmen on the highway, and the board doesn’t have the authority to make that decision.
“The sheriff makes a decision about where he patrols,” DeLashmit said.
“However, there’s an added expense and revenue to this, so that’s the board’s responsibility, do we want to amend this year’s budget to allow this test for next year
“And do we make changes to the next budget to continue the practice, so the discussion for the board is not whether or not the sheriff can do this, but do we want to venture the expense and the return,” DeLashmit said.
Smith said that after he appointed Palmer chief deputy, they sat down to look at the department’s finances.
He said during that discussion, the department’s prior patrol exercise on I-70 came up, and that he showed Palmer the results of that exercise, including a spreadsheet showing the expenses and revenues.
Smith said that with the figures that Palmer came up with as a result of his study, they believed it was a program worth doing.
And, while the revenue that can be generated through the patrols is one positive, there’s also another, bigger issue, Smith said.
“It’s very sad that our IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) workers and everybody else has to live like that.
“I know the first time when I was hired by Bond County and sat in a construction zone, I was shocked, the speed people come through a construction zone. “It’s all traffic safety, keeping everybody safe,” Smith said.
The sheriff said that he worked interstate patrols for Bond County for about 10 years, “and I made a lot of Bond County a lot of money besides writing speeding tickets.
“Bond County got $1.67 million off a traffic stop of mine and it changed everything,” he said.
Smith said that revenue generated through the patrols can help address a major concern of him and Palmer – the department’s fleet of vehicles.
“I’m worried to death about our fleet vehicles,” he said, explaining that when he took over as sheriff, the average mileage on the fleet vehicles was 133,000.
He said that money received from pipeline companies helped address that issue, but, “I think we’re closing up on 115,000 to 118,000 again.”
Harris said, “We have the responsibility of the safety of our constituents. We also have the responsibility to keep our officers equipped and safe.”
DeLashmit asked Circuit Clerk Kathy Emerick to tell board members what was generated by interstate patrols in 2017.
“Just what we kept in the county was $91,000,” Emerick said, explaining that that revenue was used for such things as medical costs incurred by arrestees in the county jail and probation expenses.
“The first month he was able to use the citation money,” Emerick said, “he was able to purchase cars, pay officers’ salaries.
“That program on the interstate was completely self-reliant – they were paying their own salaries, they were buying new vehicles that they needed.
“I firmly believe this program is what we need to do to get out of the hole we’re in,” Emerick said.
Palmer said, “Not just financially, because I know the finance is a big thing for the county, but when you look at Bond County or when you’re going through Coffeen, you look at their traffic safety for their population.
“I know, as a cop, when I go through Coffeen, I need to slow down the speed. You go to Bond County, everybody here who goes through Bond County slows down.
Palmer said Tuesday afternoon that that creates the perception that you shouldn’t speed going through Fayette County.
“It doesn’t only just generate revenue,” Palmer said. “It is a safety issue, and it works.”
Smith said Tuesday afternoon that he gets on I-70 from time to time, and one day, he caught one motorist driving 109 mph, then one driving 106, then one driving 96.
He also said that while on patrol in Bond County, he stopped a pickup truck traveling 80 mph with three occupants.
“The driver, from New Jersey, hands me a valid license … you got the feeling when you’re up there talking to them that maybe things aren’t so kosher here,” Smith said Tuesday afternoon.
Two of the occupants, he said, were wanted for a murder in New Jersey, and the third was wanted for rape.
Harris said that having another deputy, one who is mostly dedicated to patrols, provides backup for other deputies.
Smith agreed, saying that while Thomas was on patrol in the construction zone, he was the first officer on the scene of an accident and also the first on scene for an overdose.
The only opposition to the interstate patrols was Collins. “I’m gonna be the biggest minority in the room right now,” he said.
Collins said that he drives a lot of miles through many states and knows that many agencies have such a patrol program.
He said he believes that can be a problem “when you get things slowed down and you start projecting tens of thousands of dollars in revenue,” and that revenue later dries up.
“I believe in law enforcement, and if these people are going that fast, they don’t need to get a ticket, they need to go to jail,” Collins said.
“If you’re going after law enforcement for money, then you’re going after law enforcement for the wrong reason. I’m sorry.
“That’s not what I perceive as a law enforcement officers job – it’s to protect and serve,” he said.
Collins said he spoke to a Vandalia aldermen when the city was having officers on interstate, and said that resulted in less police protection in the city.
DeLashmit said, “The sheriff is responsible for law enforcement.
“The reason our conversation is about numbers is because that’s our responsibility, is do we fund it or do we not.
“So, that’s why we’re talking about expenses and revenue here, because that’s the board’s responsibility – what are the proper expenses, how do we manage it.
“So, for law enforcement is it a good thing, is it a bad thing – that’s the sheriff’s judgment, and we, we don’t have a dog in the hunt.
“He cannot exceed his budget without our approval. That’s what he’s seeking, is an amendment for the budget to be able to provide his discretion about law enforcement,” DeLashmit said.
Tuesday afternoon, Smith and Palmer said that in addition to addressing speeding and generating revenue, the interstate patrols can help in the fight against more serious crimes, including drug trafficking and human trafficking.
Smith said that right after being trained for drug interdiction and going on patrols in Bond County, “I stopped, I got 100 pounds (of cannabis) in my second week after coming out of the class, a car that I probably would have the wrote a speeding ticket to and for no insurance card, and turned loose.”
He also shared a personal experience that relates to the idea of traffic safety.
Smith said that some time back, he was stopped in Coffeen for driving three miles per hour over the speed limit.
He said that after some discussion, the officer – who did not know that Smith was in law enforcement – agreed to let him off with just a warning … on one condition.
“Go tell people not to speed through my town.”