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Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 12:01 am

The cop was right to ticket me

Captain Bill Hall, Illinois State Police
Once in my teens, approaching the stop sign a block from my house, with no cars around, I slowed way down then gently glided through in my old VW bug.

Bill Hall, my friends’ father and the state police captain in District 9, was in his front yard. He stopped me and issued a ticket. Not a warning, a real ticket with a fine.

A ticket? For that? I couldn’t believe it. Neither could the kids in the lunchroom at Springfield High next day as they contributed to help pay the fine.

“Bill Hall would ticket his own mother,” people said.

His reputation as a straight arrow was earned in the late ’40s when he led the charge against illegal gambling in Sangamon County. He headed police teams which burst into taverns and smashed slot machines with sledge hammers. He wasn’t popular.

During the Ogilvie administration, part of Hall’s job was to review the expenses of the governor’s security detail. There were some expenditures he wouldn’t approve. That got him a long duty assignment in Cairo, Ill.

So I had many sympathizers as a victim of the man who cut no slack.

I thought of Captain Hall, who later in his career was Springfield police chief, while sitting at a stoplight on a busy Springfield street recently. A Range Rover blew through the red at about 30 miles an hour – an event that happens with increasing frequency. More and more people routinely roll through reds these days. And a lot of people don’t even slow down.

I first saw this when, as a new Public Aid director, I was given a tour of East St. Louis. As we traveled from social service agencies, to churches and clinics and then to recipients’ homes, I noticed we were not stopping for traffic lights. Special treatment? When I asked, the driver said, “Oh, nobody stops.”

And it was true. As the society in that town broke down, people just started ignoring the laws that were inconvenient.

I think this disregard for traffic laws is a precursor of decay in a city. (Perhaps it is in part because Springfield has more traffic lights per capita than the average city.) But whatever the reason, letting it slip breeds more disregard. And in Springfield we have learned that sometimes people die when red lights are run.

New York City found that an emphasis on enforcing the “small stuff” like anti-jaywalking laws helped usher in a period of declining crime rates overall. Educators have found that fixing broken windows lessens vandalism in schools.

Captain Hall sensed the importance of the small stuff as well as the big stuff.

We live in a world where, increasingly, people ignore the rules that apply to the little things. Too many people today think the rules don’t apply to them. And that’s a problem, especially when there is somebody in the intersection.

Bill Hall was a scrupulous cop who lived by the all rules. He never let it slide. And he was right.

We need more like him on our streets.

Phil Bradley of Springfield is a retired civil servant and health care executive. He serves on two public regulatory boards. He is the author of
Chance Picks a Lady, a murder mystery novel recently published on Amazon.

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