|SPRINGFIELD, IL – November 23 marks the one year anniversary of a tragic car crash that took the lives of sisters Jessica and Kelli Uhl. On that tragic day, Illinois State Police (ISP) Trooper Matt Mitchell’s squad car crossed an I-64 median and collided into a car occupied by the two Collinsville sisters, killing both instantly. |
“This past year couldn't have been more devastating for the Uhl family, said ISP Director Larry G. Trent. “We continue to send our heartfelt sympathies and prayers to them as they try to cope with this tragedy. Not a day goes by that I don't think about their loss.”
In an effort to prevent future tragedies, Director Trent has raised the issue of response driving with the nation’s top law enforcement leaders. Director Trent will continue to discuss these policy changes in hopes they will serve as a model for other emergency services to follow. On January 8, 2008, Director Trent mandated that when a vehicle equipped with an in-car video system is operating with the emergency lights activated, the in-car camera must be activated without exception. Command officers within the ISP were directed to discuss the importance of exercising due care when responding to calls for service with their subordinates. Additionally, during the past year, the ISP convened an internal committee, and consulted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Police Executive Research Forum to review various law enforcement policies from throughout the nation. The committee ultimately made recommendations regarding emergency driving and in-car video camera use.
“Having served law enforcement in four decades, I have never been part of such a dramatic change in the policing culture than we are about to implement,” said Director Trent. I know it’s not going to be a popular decision in the law enforcement community, but it’s my responsibility to not only protect our officers, but to protect the innocent citizens who travel the roadways within Illinois.”
As a result of the review, the ISP will institute monumental policy changes and enhancements on January 1, 2009. The following policy changes are being implemented in an effort to lessen the likelihood of a similar tragedy:
- Implementation of a comprehensive response driving policy. The policy will institute a four-tier response code system for officers responding to calls for service. This policy will outline the use of emergency equipment and the speed and manner in which the officer will respond to a call, including supervisory notification when the responding officer intends to exceed the posted speed limit more than 20 mph. Supervisors will also be required to monitor the incident as it evolves and make appropriate changes in their officers’ response code as necessary.
The ISP is only the second state in the nation to implement such speed restrictions. Our research also reveals very few major city police departments have set such stringent requirements.
- Implementation of a cellular hands-free requirement. The use of cellular phone while driving a department-owned vehicle will only be permitted when the device is used with a hands-free component. Also, officers will not be permitted to use a mobile data computer or cellular equipment for voice or data communications while on an emergency response call.
- The in-car video camera policy, previously implemented in January 2008 that required the video recording equipment be activated while the emergency lighting is on, has been further clarified. The policy will now include a provision that will prohibit an officer to cause the recording equipment to be turned off while responding to an emergency call or traffic stop.
Director Trent added; “There was a time not long ago that police agencies across the country would pursue anyone for anything. As we know, many police agencies developed a restricted pursuit policy; the ISP was one of the first in Illinois to do so. The restrictive pursuit policy was the right thing to do in 1997; this restrictive response policy is the right thing to do in 2009. I will both expect and accept the criticism that will come from this decision. I have spent an entire year thinking about this change and fully realize the magnitude of this decision. We assured the Uhl family that as an agency we would learn from their tragic loss. We have learned, I am convinced, that emergency response driving, whether it is police, fire or ambulance, must change. The long standing culture of response at all costs is no longer acceptable within the Illinois State Police. I am confident other entities will someday follow. My hope is that others will learn from the tragic deaths of Jessica and Kelli."
Following an intensive investigation by the ISP Division of Internal Investigation and the agency’s presentation to the St. Clair County Grand Jury, Trooper Mitchell was indicted on two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of aggravated reckless driving. Trooper Mitchell is currently relieved of duty with pay and is awaiting trial.
The ISP policies are:
Wireless Voice/Data Communications Equipment
In-Car Video Camera Recording Equipment
Emergency Response Driving