Tuesday, June 12, 2007

POLICE (not really)

Yesterday morning I passed through the Crystal Lake intersection of U.S. 14 and IL 176 about 8:30AM, when the roadway to the west was closed for a multiple-vehicle accident. This morning’s paper indicated the roadway was closed for about five hours.

On the west side of the intersection was a female Community Service Officer (CSO) of the Crystal Lake Police Department. She had correctly positioned her vehicle to block westbound traffic, and she was motioning to westbound traffic on 176 to turn either left or right.

All fine and dandy. Although there was a lack of military precision to her hand movements, as there usually is with civilian and police traffic control personnel, she was doing an acceptable job. At least, no one approaching the intersection from the east on 176 was trying to go straight ahead.

The situation was different for vehicles westbound on US 14. Drivers in the left-turn lane were being directed to go straight ahead. Unfortunately, drivers on westbound US 14 in the through lane had no way to know that drivers in the left-turn lane could not turn left and were being directed to go straight ahead, and there were plenty of near-misses and angry reactions.

I called the police department to suggest that the Street Department place traffic cones to close the westbound left-turn lane, but I don’t know whether that suggestion was implemented. There often is little coordination between police and streets departments when it comes to accident response.

The CSO was wearing a bright orange vest with the word POLICE on it. I looked for a weapon and saw none. Her vehicle was marked as a Community Service vehicle. In most towns a CSO is not a sworn police officer and is not armed.

Is it appropriate, then, for a CSO to wear a vest labeled POLICE? I think it is not.

If the wrong “crazy” gets mad at a traffic-control point and decides to take out his anger on the nearest police officer, the CSO may be the target. He or she is unarmed and probably untrained in self-defense. Putting a POLICE vest on a non-police officer is a decision that needs a close review by the police department. Some other warning wording would be preferable, such as TRAFFIC CONTROL.

CSOs might need 2-3 different vests in their vehicles for different situations. Even “CSO” is better than POLICE.

But it’s the warning vest that is the key, and that’s what gets a driver’s attention. Traffic control by a CSO is a good use of personnel, as long as the CSO is trained and gets enough experience. It’s especially tricky at non-right-angle intersections and those with multiple lanes in opposite directions (like the one in question).

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