Editor’s Note: After news this week that Washington State lawmakers are pushing Senate Bill 6316 to stop the police practice of traffic ticket orders, we thought this would be a great companion blog. One of the national issues of the NMA is to advocate against traffic ticket quotas which if implemented by a police department, creates an environment that a law enforcement officer’s evaluation, salary and even promotion might ride on the number of tickets written. “Policing in Profit” occurs in many forms. This post originally was NMA E-Newsletter #572 emailed to NMA members on December 29, 2019. If you would like to receive NMA’s weekly newsletter, become a member today!
By our latest count, twenty states have explicit laws banning traffic ticket quotas. And yet, the practice continues, even within some of those states. City, county, and state budgets must be met, and a reliable target for revenue continues to be the motorist.
A brief rundown of the states with quota prohibitions follows but first, courtesy of reporting by TheNewspaper.com, here are just a few of the abuses uncovered in 2019:
Forty state troopers were caught claiming bogus overtime hours, inspired by a federally funded ticketing program required each trooper to issue at least eight speeding tickets per shift. Failure to do so led in some cases to the trooper in question being prevented from earning overtime pay. Eight of the state police were indicted for embezzlement for their roles tied to the speed trap detail.
Ticket quotas have kept State Attorney General Eric S. Schmitt busy. In June, he secured an admission from the city of Diamond that its chief of police required or encouraged his officers to issue a minimum number of traffic violations. One of the Diamond officers blew the whistle on the scheme to Schmitt, proving a violation of the state’s law that disallows a political subdivision or law enforcement agency from having a quota policy.
Just a few months later, AG Schmitt charged the city of Marshfield for engaging in the same practice, referring to the speed trap ticket quota as “taxation by citation.”
A Dallas officer was caught falsifying nearly 40 speeding tickets to meet the funding requirements of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s high-visibility enforcement grant program. He faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and repayment of the overtime he took home as a result of writing 569 tickets over four months.
The federal grant program so blatantly ties grant awards to ticketing activity that the NMA sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in 2017 urging reform. The lack of a meaningful response gave rise to the NMA’s anti-ticket-quota bill, the DETER Act, that is currently a focal point of our lobbying efforts in Washington.
The city of Independence fired a long-term police veteran after it suspected he was responsible for notifying the media about the town’s ticket quota actions. The officer, Lieutenant Leonard Mazzola, denied the accusation and is suing the mayor, police chief, and law director. Mazzola earlier had complained internally about the quota policy – termed “a performance standard fundamental to effective policing” by the chief – that had a goal of reaching the issuance of 3,000 traffic tickets per year.
In another whistleblower case (and indicator that ticket quotas undermine police morale), the city of Hialeah has been accused of punishing an officer for failing to issue a prescribed number of tickets per day. Florida statutes prohibit a traffic enforcement agency from establishing a traffic citation quota.
Ticket quotas, whose existence is so often denied, are real. The victims are the motorists who bear the brunt of overly aggressive, and sometimes fraudulent, enforcement activities, and often the police officers whose job performance is threatened by policies forcing them to write tickets they otherwise might not issue.
State laws against ticket quotas: