PEKIN — After the Pekin Police Department warned on its Facebook page that it would send extra officers out last week in search of “distracted drivers,” one reader replied, “Gotta catch U first.”
They did, in droves, and not just cellphone users.
From Monday through Friday, city police issued 279 traffic tickets, an average of 56 per day. The previous two full weeks produced half that total at 140 tickets, or 10 per day.
Officers, using 72 overtime hours over the five days, handed out 107 tickets for breaking the state’s “unlawful electronic communication/texting” law, aimed at hand-held cellphone use. The previous two-week haul was 16.
The reinforced patrols also wrote 72 tickets for seat belt violations, one quarter of the week’s total, revealing that many Pekin drivers have yet to accept the five-year-old state law requiring all vehicle occupants to be buckled in.
Motorists, at least those snared by the unprecedented traffic enforcement campaign, might remember April 24-28 as Pekin’s Week of Tickets.
While the campaign targeted cellphone use, its high ticket volume also shed light on the city’s most common driving violations — and, with cellphones, who commits them.
Drivers between ages 26-35, for example, led all decade-divided age groups in distracted driving tickets, with three times as many as those up to 10 years younger, according to police reports compiled by the Daily Times.
The ticket flood came during the state’s first Distracted Driving Awareness Week, in which police departments were called on to focus attention, if not extra enforcement, to combat the dangers of driving with hand-held cellphones, which Illinois outlawed in 2014.
The state provided no grant funds to pay officers’ overtime for the campaign. That could well change, several Tazewell County community police chiefs said this week, but only Pekin’s chose to accept the first campaign’s unfunded mandate.
“We felt it was important,” said Chief John Dossey, whose department has led all others in Tazewell County in cellphone tickets the past three years.
“It was an opportunity to get our feet wet” and prepare for future state-funded distracted driving campaigns, similar to those focusing on DUI and seat belt violators.
Dossey said his department will also participate in those established campaigns, a shift in policy under Greg Nelson, whom Dossey succeeded as chief 2 1/2 years ago.
That means local motorists can expect more overtime-fueled traffic law crackdowns soon, particularly during holiday periods when state grants are used to staff special patrols by community departments and the Illinois State Police.
Because no grants came with the first Distracted Driving campaign, no extra officers patrolled last week in East Peoria, Washington and Morton, their chiefs said.
All three acknowledged surprise at Pekin’s ticket results.
“Those are still pretty impressive numbers, even with putting the extra (officers) on,” said East Peoria Chief Dick Ganschow.
He and Washington’s Chief Ted Miller support adding distracted driving to the state’s enforcement campaign menu.
“It makes more sense to shift the focus of grants to distracted driving,” given statistics showing its growing cause of serious accidents, Ganschow said.
“When you get behind (a cellphone-using driver), it almost looks like DUI behavior,” said Miller.
Lack of grants for last week’s campaign, however, dissuaded the county’s smaller departments from assigning overtime for it.
“If the state adds distracted driving” to its grant-funded campaigns, “we’ll look at” participating, said Morton Chief Craig Hilliard.
Under the formula for dividing ticket revenue among communities, counties and the state, Pekin can expect to collect about $7,873, or 23 percent, of the estimated $29,160 in fines from the 279 tickets issued last week. Tazewell will receive 50 percent, the state 23 percent.
While Dossey had not yet tabulated his department’s overtime costs for the campaign, it would amount to roughly half of the city’s ticket revenue.
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin