Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nice to see state Police Department helping with holiday traffic enforcement

I remember back when I was a reporter-type person based at the Illinois Statehouse, I would often hear jokes made about the police department maintained by the Illinois secretary of state’s office.

That law enforcement agency exists primarily to enforce state laws concerning the sale of automobiles and car parts, protecting the people from fraud. But their most visible (to the general public, at least) function is that they also patrol the grounds of the Capitol building and all the other state government buildings at the capitol complex in Springfield.

IT MEANS THE jokes were along the lines of the agency being nothing more than overglorified security guards, or some sort of personal perk for the Secretary of State (George Ryan’s, and now Jesse White’s, own personal police department – to do with as he sees fit).

Which is why I was pleased to see the Secretary of State police being put to work in another function – beginning Friday and running for the next few weeks. It will be put to work throughout the Chicago area at the shopping malls to help patrol traffic and find parking cheats.

More specifically, they’re going to be scouring the parking lots of those overglorified shopping centers in suburban Schaumburg, Oak Brook and Orland Park, along with the malls located in Bloomington, Carbondale, Springfield, and Fairview Heights (an Illinois-based suburb of St. Louis).

People who think the way to cope with the overcrowded parking lots at those shopping malls is to take one of the close-in spots set aside for people with physical disabilities are going to find that their traffic tickets were written by the Secretary of State police.

 NOW I WILL be the first to admit that I understand the frustration of people who find it near to impossible to get a parking spot when they make a trip to the mall in order to do some holiday shopping.

Particularly on Friday, with all those people who absolutely insist on going out to the stores to take advantage of the alleged deals being offered by retailers who are desperate for the business, it is going to be a mess.

That is the exact reason why I refused on Friday to go to anything resembling a shopping mall, and wasn’t too enthused about entering a store of any type. I don’t want to deal with the crowds of people.

But I know not everyone is like me. So there were people who were swearing up a storm while looking for a parking spot that wasn’t a long haul from the malls main entrance. Some of them invariably decided their comfort was more important than someone’s use of a parking space set aside for the “handicapped.”

PERSONALLY, I DON’T feel sorry for the fact that they could get hit with a fine of up to $500, and could also wind up finding their driver’s licenses suspended for a few weeks. Which means I think this is a good use of the Illinois secretary of state police department.

I have gained that attitude in recent years, particularly since my father and step-mother managed to become one of the roughly 443,000 (according to the Chicago Tribune) motorists with a special placard they hang from their rear-view mirror of their vehicle indicating they can park legally in the “handicapped” spaces.

Not that I expected them to be among the frenzied shoppers on Friday. But I’d hate to see them having to haul themselves across a shopping mall parking lot, particularly if my step-mother’s mother was with them, just because someone else got a little bit lazy during their shopping spree.

So it will be nice to know that the secretary of state police are helping to control the traffic mess at the mall – which I intend to avoid as much as I possibly can during this holiday season. Perhaps we should think long-term when it comes to that law enforcement agency.

NOT THAT I want the secretary of state police out at the mall beyond the holiday season. Perhaps there are other places where they could be loaned out to provide needed law enforcement assistance.

Because while I realize that the Capitol building and the rest of the Statehouse Scene is in need of some sort of security, I want to believe that our legislators will still be safe next spring when they try to resolve Illinois’ serious financial problems even if there are a few fewer police officers on hand around the building.


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