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Police agencies putting more emphasis on traffic enforcement

By | Posted - Jan. 18, 2011 at 10:00 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City police are issuing a new mandate to patrol officers: Write at least one ticket a week or explain why you didn't.

Meanwhile, Park City police say they stopped record numbers of drivers.

Both law enforcement agencies say the No. 1 complaint they receive is traffic safety -- people speeding through residential areas. But when they step up enforcement, reaction is often mixed.

Salt Lake City implements ticketing requirements

"I totally respect what they do, but a lot of the time I feel they're just waiting [for speeders]," says Utah driver Tiffany Bori.

It's a rumor that has circulated for years: Police officers are required to meet a quota when issuing a ticket.

The Salt Lake City Police Department recently learned they have a couple patrol officers who hadn't issued a ticket in a year. When they found out, Police Chief Chris Burbank says the question wasn't: Why officers hadn't written tickets? Instead, it was: What had they been doing with their time? For some, the answer was nothing.

"They decided, ‘Well, we need to spend some time doing traffic enforcement.' And of course, certainly [it] comes up: 'How many do you want us to write?'" Burbank said. The decision: one ticket a week, or explain how you spent your time proactively policing. Burbank called the citation number a "goal" rather than a ticket "quota," though he acknowledged some in the public would see it as splitting hairs.

If an officer does not write 20 traffic tickets in a trimester, it does not mean they will not receive their regular pay raise or have any benefits held back, Burbank said.

"If they come in with 19, it won't be a problem. If they come in with two, we'll probably ask, 'What are you doing in your free time?' he said. "That's where the accountability comes in."

Former state representative Neil Hansen, who tried to pass three bills outlawing quotas, feels that's what Salt Lake police are creating with the requirement.

"If they're doing one a week, next year, if revenue is down, are they going to ask them to do one a day instead of one a week?" Hansen asks.

There are an estimated 200 patrol officers in the Salt Lake City Police Department. On average, an active motor cop will write 10 to 20 tickets a day, Burbank said. Writing just one a week shouldn't be a problem if an officer is doing their job.

Park City police making more traffic stops

Meanwhile, Park City police are coming off a record year: 9,000-plus stops. That averages to one an hour, but only 1,000 tickets were issued.

Park City police point to recently released numbers showing a decrease in traffic fatalities statewide as one of the reasons for stepping up enforcement.

"We feel positive about the reduction in those fatalities, that maybe some of it is due to traffic enforcement," says Park City police Capt. Phil Kirk.

Kirk says no quotas were issued, but both patrol and commanding officers were encouraged to participate. Eighty percent of the stops were made in residential areas.

While feedback has been mostly positive, Kirk says there have also been complaints.

"It's hard to find that happy medium," he says. "There are people on both sides who feel you're not reaching it."


Story written by Sarah Dallof, with contributions from Pat Reavy.


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