Highland Park, News

Expect more police on the roads in Highland Park as part of new campaign

City looks to reverse enforcement trend that began during pandemic

The Highland Park Police Department’s new campaign will increase roadway presence in an effort to curb under-enforced traffic violations, according to department officials.

The change follows an overall decrease in annual traffic stops in the past five years, a trend brought on by a shift in resource allocation during the COVID pandemic.

The High Visibility Safer Roadways campaign places a focus on traffic enforcement through increased police presence and officers dedicated to ensuring safe driving, per a statement published by the police department on May 21.

Administrative Sgt. Brian Soldano explained that the goal of the campaign is to emphasize voluntary compliance by having more police present in dangerous areas.

“What this campaign is attempting to do is, when we have the staffing to do so we are gonna dedicate an officer to what I’ll call a traffic officer position,” Soldano said. “That will allow that officer to really focus on traffic enforcement in areas that have been deemed problematic by officers observations, by community members who call in concerns about problematic areas.”

A Highland Park Police Department video explaining the initiative.

Soldano explained that HPPD is planning to use data to pinpoint where reckless driving is most common. Using the data, compiled from community observations and police reports, the department has created a list of areas that will continuously be updated.  

The campaign relies on voluntary compliance, meaning that with more police visibility, motorists will exercise greater caution. Along the same lines, the department notes that by performing more traffic stops, drivers will become more attentive to dangerous driving habits.

“Our hope is that through being more visible and conducting more traffic enforcement in areas we perceive to be problematic will minimize the dangers,” the sergeant said. “… The purpose of doing traffic stops and writing citations is that it is a deterrent.”

According to Soldano, having an officer dedicated to traffic enforcement will help ensure that traffic violations are enforced, while other officers can handle calls for service and other neighborhood needs. 

“The hope is that by having officers out there that are specifically doing traffic enforcement there will be more time allotted to that, as opposed to an officer who tries to do traffic enforcement, but then they go on a neighbor dispute,” he said. “That time is interrupted so frequently, sometimes on a day-to-day basis they find it difficult to dedicate as much time to traffic enforcement as we’d like.”

The shift in enforcement is caused by multiple factors, Soldano said.

Police records, which The Record acquired via a public-records request, show a recent shift in total annual traffic stops made by Highland Park Police Department. Between 2015 and 2019, the department made an average of 4,972 annual traffic stops. Following the COVID pandemic, between 2020 and May of 2024, that number was cut by more than half (54%) — to an average of 2,150 traffic stops per year.

Soldano said the pandemic, along with its side effects, played a large role in the change. In the first years of the pandemic, he said service calls increased and there was a heightened need for mental health support, all while the department worked to keep officers safe. 

The sergeant explained that this data is what helped build the High Visibility Safer Roadways Campaign. Concerned by the steep drop in traffic stops over the past five years, and knowing traffic violations likely did not drop as precipitously, Soldano and his team developed a campaign to boost enforcement to close that gap.

To Soldano and the HPPD, making traffic stops and writing citations are an effort to keep the roadways safe and hold reckless drivers accountable. He emphasized the department does not have citation quotas and said revenue is not a factor in this rollout of this campaign. 

“I can tell you that unequivocally this is not designed to bolster revenue, nor do we have quotas.” Sgt. Soldano said in a video included in the announcement. “It’s purely about ensuring that we send the message to those who drive in and through our community to do so safely.”

The May launch of the campaign was not done by design, Soldano said, but it is advantageous.

With the warmer weather, more people are sharing the roadway, and Soldano said incidents are more likely.

“This time of year you get a lot more people walking in our business district and there’s just a lot of opportunity for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists to interact in a negative way,” Soldano said.

As stated in the announcement, the police will target dangerous driving, which includes speeding, disregarding traffic signals, driving aggressively and using a cellphone while driving. Also, the campaign aims to stop drivers who fail to use turn signals, adjust to road conditions, and share the road with pedestrians or bicyclists. 

Residents of Highland Park should expect an increase in police presence dedicated to traffic enforcement. With that, officers focused on traffic may use unmarked police vehicles.

Soldano echoes the messages shared in the City’s statement. He said the campaign is a group effort and involves all community members as well as enhanced safe driving education. HPPD plans on holding several community events, which are not yet scheduled, aimed at teaching safe driving techniques. 

“Our hope is that you get the chance to see our committed team of officers at one of our many community events throughout the summer and not your rearview mirror with the lights on,” Soldano said in the video.

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