Bounties for Traffic Stops and Brass’s Hidden Quotas?

If traffic ticket quotas are illegal, what message does the brass send the frontline and courts when they hide such quotas in internal job performance jargon?


The original controversy.

Traffic enforcement ranks sure gets a lot of people’s shorts in a twist. Probably that’s because most of the driving citizenry can imagine themselves speeding, while they feel nothing in common with rapists, killers, drug traffickers, robbers, thieves and child molesters.

Here’s a controversy that made news just last month: a Connecticut trooper commander urged his officers in an internal memo to compete with each other over who could write the most tickets and offered pizza to the shift with the highest ticket total.

While slices for citations doesn’t make my lollapalooza cut, the story had a police spokesman assuring the media that the troopers don’t have traffic stop quotas while the union President felt obliged to say that troopers don’t need to be told to issue a certain number of tickets to do their job. Plus, the story engendered plenty of police and public comment.

I asked my 83-year-old Dad, who retired from the Marine Corps and then again as a small businessman, what he thought about a competition for the most tickets with a pizza party prize.  The corners of his mouth twitched up (that’s a grin for him) and he quipped, “Sounds like the Saints’ bounties.”

Unless you live in a monastery that has cut off communication with the outside world, you’ve caught at least headlines and TV sound bites about the New Orleans Saints – the NFL football team recently wracked in a scandal because it paid bounties to its players to deliberately knock opponents out of the game.

I don’t think my Dad meant to equate slices for citations with sizable cash bonuses for intentionally injuring an opposing player. Still, that’s what first thing popped into his head.

Moreover, the intensity of the commentary and debate this story generated surprised me. From arguments asking why don’t the cops work real crimes and go bust some murderers (revealing an ignorance about traffic cop versus homicide investigator duties and the fact that way more people are killed by speeders than murderers) to anecdotal reports of the increased likelihood of being ticketed the last week of the month because cops are trying to reach their quotas, to suggestions that judges are in on the speed limit “conspiracy” because their salaries are paid by traffic fines – plenty of folks take their speeding seriously.

But there’s more to this than righteously indignant, if ignorant or hypocritical, speeders.

The bigger controversy.

Here’s what the Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement says about ticket quotas,

Law enforcement quotas for the issuance of traffic tickets (citations) are illegal. According to many police union representatives, however, they do exist in practice under other names like “performance expectations,” “performance standards,” “performance criteria,” “quantitative expectations,” “statistical targets,” and “traffic goals.” According to police ethics, quotas requiring a certain number of tickets over a certain time period would be unethical, because this could be seen as coercing law enforcement officers to issue tickets when they might not otherwise do so in order to avoid administrative reprisal or a negative work evaluation. State laws might also specify that quotas for traffic stops and traffic warnings are illegal. For instance, at least 12 states have passed laws to prohibit any law enforcement agency from requiring traffic officers to meet quotas for numbers of traffic stops or arrests. In general, rank and file police usually support such legislation … (.)

In my unscientific sampling of internet comments by cops, there is disagreement amongst the ranks. Some officers have no problem with quotas that make lazy cops get off their butts. Other officers decry quotas for the same reasons set out by the Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement.

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