MOLINE — On Monday morning, the Illinois State Police had an unmarked officer parked on Interstate 74 in Moline, monitoring passing traffic for speeders.
Business as usual — except that the officer wasn’t just unmarked. He was wearing a hardhat, dressed in casual clothing and sitting in a Walsh Construction truck.
The trooper, Master Sgt. Ron Salier, was disguised as a construction worker in order to nab speeders and distracted drivers without tipping off violators that an officer was present.
“We’re here to help each other out,” Salier said about the kinship of roadside workers. “We are enforcing the law but also educating the motoring public.”
According to Trooper Jason Wilson, safety education officer in ISP District 7, Walsh Construction approached the Illinois State Police about the idea behind "Operation Hard Hat" several weeks ago. The collaboration between Walsh, the ISP and the Illinois Department of Transportation was touted to benefit all roadside workers.
“Locals understand we’re going to be out here, and they know exactly where we’re going to be sitting. So they make sure that they don’t do anything wrong in that one little spot,” Wilson said. “We want to make this construction zone safe for everyone.”
In just a few minutes monitoring eastbound traffic on I-74 between Avenue of the Cities and John Deere Rd, Salier recorded nine speeding violations.
“Speeds are reduced for a reason,” Salier said about the construction zone. “It’s for themselves, the safety of the driver.”
When Salier spotted a serious violation, he would radio a trooper patrolling the zone. Over about a two-hour span, 10 traffic stops yielded 10 speeding warnings and citations, one seatbelt violation and two other equipment warnings, according to a State Police press release.
For over a month, the Illinois State Police has campaigned statewide against driving violations.
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In April, the force ramped up targeting violators of Scott’s Law, or the “Move Over” Law, a state rule that requires motorists to reduce speed and, if possible, change lanes when approaching an emergency vehicle. By law, emergency vehicles include police cars, firetrucks and ambulances; tow trucks and construction; and cars driven by members of the public who have activated their emergency flashing lights.
In 2019 alone, 34 ISP squad cars have been struck, more than quadruple the number struck in all of 2018. Many of the crashes have resulted in fatalities.
To continue the campaign to improve roadside safety, the Illinois State Police has bolstered its PR efforts.
Last month, the force released a 30-second public service announcement about Scott’s Law. “Slow down. Move over. It's the law,” the ad said.
In the Rock Island area, the State Police also has taken to unorthodox publicity ideas, like the construction guise.
“It’s just like an undercover guy that would go in and buy drugs or something along those lines,” Wilson said about the camouflage. “There’s plenty of case law that shows there’s no actual restriction on what we actually need to [wear] for enforcement. No matter what we’re wearing, we’re still sworn police officers."
Wilson said that Illinois State Police and Walsh Construction were in talks to work together again, but that the collaboration had no concrete plans after this week. Work-Zone Safety Week lasts from May 6 through May 10.
“If that’s what it takes to make this place safer, that’s what we’ll do.”