By CARL GREEN
Sparta, IL – The Sparta, Ill., police union has won a big victory in the Illinois Supreme Court, striking down a city policy that evaluates officers in part over how many tickets they issue.
The story has a sour note as well – the justice who wrote the opinion supporting the union, Thomas Kilbride, is the same one who was defeated for retention on Nov. 3, following a multi-million dollar smear campaign by Republicans and corporations to get rid of him.
The Randolph County city’s “activity points” system for evaluating officers includes points for traffic stop warnings, worth one point each, and for issuing citations, worth two points. Extra-duty assignments also earn points.
But a state law passed in 2014 bars cities from evaluating police on the number of tickets they issue, saying, “A municipality may not require a police officer to issue a specific number of citations within a designated period of time,” and that “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 Policemen’s Benevolent Labor Committee sued the city over the policy in late 2018. Sparta officials claimed the policy stops short of requiring that officers issue a certain number of citations, and they won the first decision by a Randolph County circuit judge in 2018.
The union appealed, and in October 2019, the 5th District Appellate Court reversed the judge’s ruling and found for the union, saying the policy “…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.”
Then the city, with support from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, appealed that ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court. That court’s unanimous opinion was written by Kilbride.
STATUTE IS CLEAR
Kilbride wrote that the language in the Illinois Municipal Code was clear, and that the city’s policy was indeed about using the number of tickets written to evaluate police.
“The statute could not be clearer on the specific issue presented by this appeal – whether issuance of citations may be included as points of contact in the city’s policy,” Kilbride wrote. “The statute simply cannot be reasonably read to permit municipalities to include the issuance of citations as points of contact.”
Ed Wojcicki, executive director of Illinois Chiefs of Police, told the Capital News service that the court at least acknowledged some of the group’s points in making its decision.
“We’re going to have to figure out what that means and decide whether we want to go back to the legislature,” he said.
Kilbride ran in Illinois’ 3rd Judicial District, which cuts across north-central Illinois and includes Moline, Rock Island, Peoria, Kankakee and surrounding areas. It does not include any part of the Metro-East.
A group called Citizens for Judicial Fairness raised about $6.2 million to defeat him, and Kilbride’s campaign raised $5.5 million to support him, including money from the Illinois Democratic Party and House Speaker Michael Madigan.
More than 56 percent of voters opted to retain Kilbride, but he needed 60 percent, making him the first Illinois Supreme Court justice to lose a retention vote. As a result, the court may name a temporary replacement for him, and a new judge will be elected in a partisan election in 2022.