How police are using 'ghost cars' to catch traffic violators

  • The Algonquin Police Department has a few "ghost" cars in its fleet to help spot traffic violators who aren't aware they're in the presence of law enforcement. "They do blend in more with regular traffic," Deputy Chief Ryan Markham.

      The Algonquin Police Department has a few "ghost" cars in its fleet to help spot traffic violators who aren't aware they're in the presence of law enforcement. "They do blend in more with regular traffic," Deputy Chief Ryan Markham. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Algonquin police say their "ghost" cars make the presence of a police officer a little more noticeable, helping them catch traffic violators in the act.

      Algonquin police say their "ghost" cars make the presence of a police officer a little more noticeable, helping them catch traffic violators in the act. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 10/26/2018 6:17 AM

Just in time for Halloween, here's a ghost story.

These ghosts haunt many suburban roadways, appearing without warning seemingly out of nowhere, but the only people they're likely to scare are traffic scofflaws.

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Ghost cars -- also known as stealth or shadow cars -- are increasingly popular tools in law enforcement's fight to rein in reckless drivers and get the most dangerous among them off the roads. And chances are you've seen one in or around your hometown, even if you didn't recognize it at the time.

The vehicles are marked squad cars, but the markings are the same or a very similar color as the squad's paint job -- usually black on black, sometimes white on white. The markings typically are reflective, making them most apparent when light hits the vehicle just right. Some even glow in the dark.

The Algonquin Police Department has three "ghosts" in their fleet -- two SUVs and a sedan. They're black with reflective black markings, but unlike some ghosts their light bars sit atop the vehicles, not inside.

Not only are they good for catching speeders and other traffic scofflaws, Algonquin police say their "ghost" cars are popular in local parades.
  Not only are they good for catching speeders and other traffic scofflaws, Algonquin police say their "ghost" cars are popular in local parades. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"They do blend in more with regular traffic," Deputy Chief Ryan Markham tells us. "People don't see them as easily. Our officers are able to see more traffic violations and things like that."

Markham led the effort to get the department ghost cars after seeing reports of a South Carolina police department's use of them. He said the department hasn't heard any complaints or criticism about them. In fact, he added, they're popular enough with the public that the department features them in local parades.

Carpentersville police also have a ghost in their fleet, though Chief Michael Kilbourne says they refer to it as a "shadow" car. It's also black on black, though he says that when its flashing lights go on "there's no mistake it's a police car."

While it helps with traffic enforcement, Kilbourne said the biggest benefit may be its ability to patrol neighborhood streets without being too obvious to would-be lawbreakers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There's no 'Here comes a police car,'" he said.

Illinois State Police have several "ghost" patrol vehicles in their fleet. They say they're particularly useful for catching drivers who are testing or otherwise distracted by mobile gadgets.
Illinois State Police have several "ghost" patrol vehicles in their fleet. They say they're particularly useful for catching drivers who are testing or otherwise distracted by mobile gadgets. - Courtesy of Illinois State Police

Illinois State Police have several stealth patrol vehicles in circulation, including a pair of white-on-white ghosts, as well as several white-on-light gray, Lt. Matt Boerwinkle said. They're particularly useful in nabbing drivers who are texting or otherwise distracted by mobile gadgets, he said.

"In those cases, you have to be right up alongside the driver to see it," Boerwinkle said.

Have a thought on ghost cars? Drop us a note at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

In memoriam

Members of the DuPage County sheriff's office are in mourning after one of their own died Wednesday night.

DuPage County Sheriff's Deputy Eddie Jackson
DuPage County Sheriff's Deputy Eddie Jackson - Courtesy of the DuPage County Sheriff's Office

Deputy Eddie Jackson had been battling cancer, according to Chief Frank Bibbiano.

"His smile is going to be missed in a big way around here," Bibbiano said.

Jackson had worked for DuPage for almost 20 years, as a patrol deputy, a detective and most recently as a township deputy. He was assigned to York Township.

The fact he was still an active officer at age 64 "speaks for his dedication," Bibbiano said.

Hairy situation

If you notice some of your suburban cops looking a little scruffy lately, it's probably for a good cause.

In Lombard, officers are having a beard-growing contest to raise money for the family of the late Detective Mike Harris, who died in January at just 45 years old. Officers in neighboring Villa Park are joining in.

Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman, right, joined in the fun of the 2016 "No-Shave November" beard contest at the department. To her right is Pete Wullbrandt, the winner of "The Ugly" award, given for the beard that made the officer look the most unkempt of all entrants.
Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman, right, joined in the fun of the 2016 "No-Shave November" beard contest at the department. To her right is Pete Wullbrandt, the winner of "The Ugly" award, given for the beard that made the officer look the most unkempt of all entrants. - Courtesy of the Aurora Police Department

And Aurora police are getting ready for "No-Shave November." Police Chief Kristen Ziman has resurrected a photo of herself, with luxuriant fake beard and mustache, from the department's 2016 effort to raise money for the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. It does so in memory of Sgt. Don Corp, who died of the disease in 2016. Officers pay $50 for the privilege of growing out their beards, as well as the chance to win awards in categories like The Ugly, The St. Nick and The Best Try.

The department raised more than $16,000 in 2016 and 2017.

Wrong side of the law

A Glen Ellyn attorney is facing legal and professional trouble stemming from accusations he attempted to seduce a female client during an office visit last year, culminating with him exposing himself and forcing her to touch him below the belt.

The state's Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission this month served Kevin P. Wendorf with a two-count complaint alleging he committed assault and battery against the woman and then allowed his personal attorney to make false statements on his behalf to Glen Ellyn police investigators.

The complaint -- which could lead to punishment ranging from censure to disbarment -- comes just a couple of months after Wendorf, 57, of Hoffman Estates was charged with misdemeanor battery stemming from the woman's accusations. Wendorf pleaded not guilty to the charge at an Aug. 30 court appearance in DuPage County.

We called Wendorf this week, but he declined to comment, other than to say he intends to litigate all the claims against him.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Send an email to copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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