getting a traffic ticket

Do Police Really Have Traffic Ticket Quotas?

If you’ve ever wondered whether the officer who pulled you over was just trying to meet a quota, you’re not alone. A quick internet search reveals that lots of us are asking that same question.

Maybe an officer nabbed you for going just a little over the speed limit and ignored someone driving much faster, or perhaps you always notice extra police activity during the last few days of the month.

While it often seems like a quota might be in place, the truth isn’t quite so straightforward.

Traffic Ticket Quotas Under Scrutiny

Some states already have laws banning ticket quotas, and even more are being implemented this year.

Just last week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill prohibiting police departments from setting traffic ticket quotas and from comparing officers’ ticket numbers when deciding promotions and raises. The law took effect immediately.

Days later, New Jersey Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlan announced that he would introduce a similar bill, and another in Oklahoma has already passed the legislature and is now awaiting Governor Mary Fallin’s signature.

Illegal Ticket Quotas

But state laws don’t always deter police departments from trying to impose quotas - sometimes under the guise of maintaining a “station average” - and embroiling themselves in controversy.

Quotas have been prohibited in California for ten years, but police departments are even now facing lawsuits from their own officers alleging that ticket quotas are in effect and are being used to evaluate performance. The city of Los Angeles paid a $2 million settlement in 2009, and a $6 million settlement in 2013, both to its own officers. Another case was settled just this year against the city of Paso Robles for an undisclosed amount.

Florida’s law banning ticket quotas only applies to state law enforcement agencies, such as the Florida Highway Patrol, but even the FHP has come under fire for allegedly firing an officer for not writing enough tickets in 2009.

Police departments in Pennsylvania and New York have also been criticized for alleged use of quotas in violation of state law.

Ticket Quotas Undermine Public Trust

Anyone who’s ever received a traffic ticket knows that it puts a good chunk of your hard-earned money in the police department’s pocket. With many city police departments across the country facing budget cuts in recent years, it’s no wonder city officials and department management might be feeling pressure to raise more money, and pass that pressure on to their officers.

Police departments in Illinois who argued against the recent bill said that the new law would prevent management from establishing standards for officer performance and motivating officers to meet those standards.

But State Representative Jay Hoffman, who sponsored the bill, points out that it “does not prohibit evaluating an officer by points of contact” including traffic stops, warnings, and arrest, but “just prohibits mandated ticket quotas.”

Police unions and lawmakers in Illinois maintain that quotas take away police discretion and put the focus on arbitrary numbers rather than on public safety. Getting rid of quotas, they say, will enable officers to better protect the public, and boost the public’s trust in law enforcement.

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