Multiple times a year, the US Department of Transportation issues grants to states for specific traffic enforcement programs. That money trickles down to cities so they can pay officers overtime. Honolulu police officers are currently participating in one such grant program this month. To measure the program’s effectiveness, the Honolulu Police Department wants officers to pull over at least four drivers every hour on a speed-related issue.
An HPD traffic sergeant made this requirement clear in a recent internal email obtained by local media: “For each hour of grant overtime worked, it is projected that each officer will generate FOUR (4) speeding-related contacts. Each stop shall be counted as one contact.”
The problem with this kind of traffic enforcement program is that officers can face disciplinary action if they do not conform. The email also pointed out that if the department could not meet its enforcement goals under the current grant, the department could lose future funding on additional federal overtime programs.
Former HPD officer and now attorney Jonathan Burge said that these kinds of ticket quota programs encourage officers to use speed traps instead of patrolling in areas where speed can be more dangerous to the public.
Another local attorney, Victor Bakke, added that the feds don’t care how many tickets you give. “They want to see if the enforcement tools that are being used are resulting in less accidents, less deaths.”
If only the federal government were that altruistic. Bakke is unaware of or ignores the fact that the aforementioned enforcement grant program, which hands out several hundred million dollars per year in awards, grades the states by how many tickets for particular types of offenses are issued. The ticket quota motivation for cities like Honolulu is driven by the measurables mandated by the federal Section 402 grant program.
In the city of Honolulu, 1820 traffic officers patrol the streets. Up to six percent of the city’s 348,000 citizens could be targeted every day during the March campaign.
After the email was leaked, the officers’ Union, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPCO), stated that such a quota system scheme is not allowed. SHOPCO Chief Malcolm Luto added, “When the Union found out it was being implemented, we immediately sent a letter to the police chief, and she responded, saying basically it was not supposed to be starting.”
After the letter from SHOPCO, Chief Susan Ballard apologized to officers for implementing such strict and unethical extortion practices. She claims that the information sent out to the rank and file was sent without her approval and authorization.
The Union, though, apparently stepped forward, not because of the overall ethics of the current ticket quota enforcement program but because the ticket quotas were not part of its current contract with the department. Police ticket quotas are not illegal in Hawaii as they are in many other states. The Union points out that both sides will continue discussions on whether ticket quotas that figure into officers’ evaluations should be part of the next contract.
The lucrative funding of ticket quotas by the federal government is an issue the NMA is tackling head-on with Congress. The NMA’s DETER Act, if enacted, would put an end to the issuance of grants to states and localities based on ticketing activity. Instead, states would be forced to demonstrate quantifiable traffic safety improvements to justify future federal grants.
For more information on the status of DETER, look for the upcoming Spring issue of Driving Freedoms, the quarterly magazine for supporting members. If you are a basic member of the NMA, you can upgrade here to receive an automatic subscription. If you aren’t currently a member, consider joining to earn benefits in addition to Driving Freedoms.