Traffic Ticket Quota System in Washington State?

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December 6, 2010

For decades, we’ve been told by the police that they do not have any quotas when it comes to writing traffic tickets. Does anyone really believe that?

I have read newspaper articles all over the nation that seem to prove what we all believe!  In Florida, I read about a good-sized police force where officers are expected to make at least 3 stops during their shift.  With 84 road patrol officers at the time of the article,  that added up to 45,864 stops with an average cost of $200 per stop, the article calculates approximately 9 million dollars in traffic revenue – minimum. Obviously, many of the officers write more than 3 tickets per shift.

Now, as an attorney in California who helps people fight their traffic tickets, you might think that I am all for the local police writing as many traffic citations as they can.  Not so! The HARSH REALITY is that there is no shortage of citations being issued in King County!

My concern is simple an straight-forward in these times of balancing local government budgets by reaching into all of our wallets – often times under the guise of “public safety.” How much pressure are the police feeling from their superiors to write tickets – just to increase revenues?  Are the local officers compromising their ethics and standards to make the tickets that they do write stand up in court?  There are sufficient bad drivers committing violations that honest and ethical officers don’t have to resort to pulling over innocent people to meet their quota.  But under the financial pressure of politicians and the officers subtle pressure is this ALWAYS the case? I don’t know – but I hear a lot of stories from upstanding citizens – makes me wonder…

When I represent people with serious traffic violations that will adversely affect them for years to come with increased insurance rates, many of them call me and come to visit me in person very frustrated because they honestly feel as if they did not commit the violation.

In the past, some of these very “iffy violations” were not things that would get someone pulled over, but in light of recent budget shortfalls, all bets are off and people are being pulled over for almost any violation, regardless of how minor. The government and the police are the paid representatives of the citizens who put them in office and pay their salaries – is this what the citizens had in mind, or are the budgets and out-of-control spending causing those we elected  to run our cities and counties?  Lately, perhaps because of what many suspect are “quota demands,” my clients are seeing speeding tickets being written for 9 miles over the limit – often withing the + / – of our car’s analog speedometers!

Here is an interesting article about Washington State:

Courtesy: TheNewspaper.com

Officials with the Washington State Patrol set numeric goals that encourage state police officers to issue as many traffic citations as possible. The effect has been a significant increase in the number of tickets written — 50,000 additional tickets were issued between 2005 and 2006. The boost came as the percentage of motorists who received tickets instead of warnings jumped from 43 percent in 2004 to 63 percent in 2006.

“We did ask our troopers to be a little less tolerant,” Assistant State Patrol Chief Brian Ursino told KING-TV. “There isn’t any quotas but there is accountability.”

A Bellvue state patrol sergeant issued a memo ordering troopers to meet the accountability goals, writing: “No matter how many cars you stop, the goal… is 80 percent enforcement (tickets).”

Those failing to meet the goal may lose vacation time or receive other sanctions. KING-TV cited a March memo that suggested troopers who stopped 1200 drivers and issued at least 660 traffic tickets would receive a commendation — essential for officers seeking to increase their pay through promotions.

Legislators including state Representative Shirley Hankins (R-Richland) have called for an end to ticket quotas, but the state patrol has a powerful ally. Former Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee Chairman Al O’Brien (D-Mountlake Terrace) spent 29 years working as a Seattle Police sergeant. O’Brien now chairs the Public Safety Committee and refuses to hold a hearing on any ticket quota bill.

Ticket quotas are nothing new for the Washington State Police. In 2002, a public records request by the Washington Seatbelt Coalition uncovered a confidential “Traffic Safety Blitz” memo urging a specific number of tickets issued each hour.

“During the emphasis, officers shall contact a minimum of three (3) violators per working hour with the desired outcome of 3 occupant protection/speed infractions per hour,” Deputy State Patrol Chief Lowell M. Porter wrote. “Officers failing to meet the minimum requirement may be replaced.”