SPRINGFIELD — The state’s highest court has struck down a southern Illinois city’s policy that partly evaluates police officers on the number of citations officers issue, finding it violates an Illinois law prohibiting ticket quotas.
On Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the labor union that represents police officers in the Randolph County city of Sparta.
The union, known as the Policemen’s Benevolent Labor Committee, sued Sparta over the city’s activity-points policy used for evaluating the performance of its police officers. The policy required all full-time officers to meet a monthly point minimum, based on actions that include issuing citations, making traffic stop warnings and taking on extra duty assignments.
Each action carried a different point value. For example, citations were worth two points while traffic stop warnings were worth one point.
In September 2018, the police union filed a lawsuit against the city that claimed the activity-points policy violates the section of the Illinois Municipal Code that prohibits cities and towns from implementing ticket quotas. The Illinois General Assembly amended the state municipal code in 2014 with a section titled, ‘quotas prohibited.’
That section states: “A municipality may not require a police officer to issue a specific number of citations within a designated period of time… A municipality may not, for purposes of evaluating a police officer’s job performance, compare the number of citations issued by the police officer to the number of citations issued by any other police officer who has similar job duties.”
The section goes on to address the allowable practice of evaluating a police officer based on the police officer’s “points of contact.”
The section defines points of contact as “any quantifiable contact made in the furtherance of the police officer’s duties, including, but not limited to, the number of traffic stops completed, arrests, written warnings, and crime prevention measures.”
The section states that points of contact “shall not include either the issuance of citations or the number of citations issued by a police officer.”
The city of Sparta argued that the activity-points policy did not violate the law because it does not mandate officers to write a specific number of citations during a certain period of time, and that officers could meet the monthly minimum without writing any citations.
In December 2018, a Randolph County judge found the city’s policy did not violate the state municipal code, and the union appealed its case to the 5th District Appellate Court, which is one level below the Illinois Supreme Court.
Last October, the 5th District Appellate Court reversed the Randolph County judge’s ruling, and it found the city’s activity-points policy violates the state law.
“Although it seems like an officer can achieve the monthly minimum points total without issuing a single citation, this policy still violates (the section of the Illinois Municipal Code) because it does exactly what is prohibited by the plain language of the statute, i.e., it permits the department to evaluate its officers by including the issuance of citations or the number of citations issued, among other things, as a point of contact,” the appellate court stated in its opinion.
Following the decision from the 5th District Appellate Court, the city of Sparta asked the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case and rule in their favor.
The city was joined by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, which submitted a legal brief in support of the city’s position to the Illinois Supreme Court.
In a nine-page decision issued Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court’s ruling.
The high court’s opinion, authored by outgoing Justice Thomas Kilbride, found the primary issue facing the court in the case “is whether (Sparta) may include the issuance of citations, along with other activities, as a point of contact in its activity-points policy used to evaluate the job performance of police officers.”
The language of the Illinois Municipal Code’s section on quotas, Kilbride wrote, “could not be clearer on that point.”
In the opinion, the justices recognized the argument by the city and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police “that a fair points policy must account for the full range of officer activity and that the failure to include issuance of citations as part of duty performance undercuts important traffic safety enforcement programs.”
But, Kilbride wrote, including citations in the points of contact systems is a matter “more properly addressed to the legislature.”
“The (Illinois Municipal Code), as it is currently written, expressly prohibits that practice, and the (code) must be enforced as written,” the opinion states.
Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said the group is pleased that the Illinois Supreme Court at least acknowledged that they raised some valid issues.
“We’re disappointed with the decision itself because the act of issuing citations is an important part of helping to keep our community safe. The fear of getting a citation is preventive medicine,” Wojcicki said in a phone interview.
“But this is going pretty far by saying (an officer) can’t be evaluated on whether (he or she) writes any citations at all. That’s going very far. We’re going to have to figure out what that (decision) means and decide whether we want to go back to the legislature.”
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