Pekin’s police chief chuckled Friday as he recalled the reply someone left on the department’s Facebook page to the warning that patrol officers would be out in force to ticket drivers using hand-held cellphones last April.

“He wrote, ‘Gotta catch U first,’” John Dossey said. “A few days later, (he wrote,) ‘I got a ticket.’”

So did 278 other motorists on the city’s streets during the week of April 24-28, including 107 who broke the state’s “unlawful electronic communication/texting” law.

By comparison, city officers wrote half as many total tickets over the full previous two weeks. They issued nearly seven times the number of cellphone-related tickets as they had two weeks earlier.

Dossey said 72 of those illegal cellphone use tickets were issued by officers working overtime during the first statewide Distracted Driving Awareness Week, commissioned by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

That organization has recognized the city police department for placing in the top 10 out of 250 police agencies for its education and enforcement efforts in the one-week campaign.

Dossey will report that to the City Council when it meets Monday night and, on behalf of the police department, will accept an award from an IACP representative.

The chief also will recognize local businesses’ efforts to educate their customers and clients about distracted driving’s dangers during the campaign. Pekin Insurance Co. provided banners that were displayed at locations including Walmart stores, Dunkin Donuts, the Avanti’s Dome, Circle K gas station and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Pekin police have heavily enforced the state’s distracted driving law, aimed at curbing texting and talking on hand-held cellphones, since it was enacted in 2014. The city has accounted for about half of all tickets issued in Tazewell County over that period.

Enforcement alone, however, hasn’t had the effect the department seeks, Dossey said.

“It takes education” to convince drivers “to change their habits,” and accept that cellphone use has become as dangerous as driving intoxicated or without a seat belt, he said.

Dossey and other area police chiefs said they expect the Illinois State Police will soon add distracted driving campaigns to others targeting specific traffic violations, such as DUI, in which officers working overtime are paid with grant funds.

He should know by September, he said, whether grants will come this year for campaigns scheduled around the fall and winter holidays.

The Pekin department paid for the 72 hours of overtime used in the April cellphone campaign, which also produced a sharp increase in tickets for other traffic violations.
Revenue from those tickets amounted to about twice the department’s estimated overtime cost.

Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin