Legislator Says Traffic Tickets are Municipal Cash Cows

Legislator Says Traffic Tickets are Municipal Cash Cows

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- It's every motorist's end-of-month fear: ticket quotas.

Most police departments insist that quotas are urban legends. But a growing number of states are beginning to outlaw the practice of requiring police officers to issue a certain number of traffic tickets to meet job performance goals.

Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, wants Utah to join the list. "It really becomes a cash cow for the municipality to write tickets," he said.

Hansen said police departments are turning into tax collectors instead of allowing officers to use their discretion. He said this puts the public at risk because police patrol areas that generate more revenue instead of the most dangerous and that police spend time writing tickets to meet goals instead of doing more important work.

"What it really boils down to is, if I'm an officer and a sergeant told me I need to write eight tickets a day, I also have calls of domestic disputes and shoplifting. It's getting to be about an hour before my time is off, and I'm just going to go write a ticket for the first person I see," he said.

Hansen tried to outlaw ticket quotas last year. His bill passed in the House, but failed to get enough support in a Senate committee. It failed on a 2-2 vote while three other lawmakers were absent.

His primary opposition is the police chief of his own town -- who is also a member of the Senate.

Sen. Jon Greiner, R-Ogden, says Hansen doesn't have any proof of a quota system in Utah. He said Hansen is "maligning" his department, and Hansen's bill could keep police officers from issuing any tickets.

He said Hansen and other supporters of the bill need to decide if they want traffic laws enforced. "They can't have it both ways, and say we want people to be safe but don't enforce, don't write tickets. Which is it this week?" he said. Hansen contends Ogden's police department is notorious for using a quota system. Greiner disagrees.

Both, however, agree that the department uses the number of citations issued by an officer as part of an annual job review. The number of citations issued is one of more than a dozen criteria the department uses to evaluate employees.

Greiner said officers helped set the goals and believe they are reasonable. To get the highest rating in that category, Greiner said officers need to issue five citations a week. But, he said, with other criteria used to evaluate employees, officers could still get a raise even if they never issued a single ticket.

Nine states, including Montana, Texas and Florida, have statutes prohibiting law enforcement from setting ticket quotas. Hansen said he believes he has the support this year to make it illegal in Utah too. "I'm pretty sure it's going to pass this year. I've had more legislators come to me and say, 'If you run your bill, I'm on board this time.' They're seeing it in their communities now, and they're starting to see it's a bigger and widespread problem," he said.

Orem Police Chief Michael Larsen said he's not opposed to the idea of banning quotas, but Hansen's bill goes too far.

Hansen named Orem as a Utah city with a quota problem, although Larsen said the department has never had a quota system in the 30 years he's worked there.

"On every stop they make, it's their discretion whether they write a citation or not or to give a warning," he said. "We have evaluation criteria and ... one of those criteria is productivity. But that does not necessarily include traffic enforcement. It's a wide scope of 'What is this employee doing on a day-to-day basis?"'

Larsen said most traffic enforcement is driven by calls from residents complaining about speeding. He said if Hansen's bill passes, an officer could refuse to write any tickets. "It prevents me from managing my department and responding to citizen concerns," he said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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