States continue pursuit to end ticket quotas

January 20, 2021

Keith Goble


Legislators in multiple states pursue action that is intended to put an end to police going on ticket-writing sprees.

Communities all over the map are able to generate revenue from different types of fines. In certain locales, fines account for more than half of local revenues. These municipalities are known for being speed traps.

The National Motorists Association says that “a speed trap exists wherever traffic enforcement is focused on extracting revenue from drivers instead of improving safety.”

According to figures compiled by Governing magazine, there are about 600 jurisdictions around the country where fines and forfeitures account for more than 10% of general fund revenues. There are 80 where the share exceeded 50%.

About 20 states have acted to discourage practices that pressure law enforcement officers to write tickets.

Some states attempt to counter the dependence on fines to cover local budget gaps by setting caps on revenue that localities can generate from fines. Nevertheless, some communities are able to work around the rules by routing the money to separate funds.

State legislators continue to seek rules intended to limit potential abuses.

New Tennessee law

The Tennessee General Assembly acted last year to put an end to police going on ticket-writing sprees.

The Volunteer State already prohibits the practice of ticket quotas. Despite the proactive step taken by the state Legislature in 2010, some said law had “no teeth” because there was no criminal penalty attached to it.

Gov. Bill Lee signed into law over the summer a bill to put some bite into the rule. Previously SB2458, the new rule specifies a penalty.

Since Oct. 1, state law includes a consequence for officials who implement ticket quotas. Specifically, public officials directing law enforcement to issue a certain number of tickets would be subject to a fine of up to $500.

New Jersey

A bipartisan effort halfway through the New Jersey statehouse is intended to curb policing for profit.

State law prohibits ticketing numbers from being the sole factor when evaluating officer performance.

The Senate voted 26-1 to advance a bill that would close the loophole. Specifically, law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from using the volume of an officer’s arrests or citations as a factor when evaluating that officer’s overall performance.

“Officers are all too often pressured to write more tickets to increase revenue and help municipalities balance their budgets,” Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Hunterdon/Mercer, said in prepared remarks.

Critics say there is no “one size fits all” standard of performance for law enforcement. Instead, police chiefs need to have the ability to establish performance measures and expectations specific to their individual agencies.

Another provision in the bill would prohibit agencies from posting arrest and citation data in common areas accessible to all officers “to create competition between officers concerning arrests and citations.”

The bill, S1322, now moves to the Assembly.

New York

Across the state line in New York, one bill is intended to remove a gap in the protection against policing for profit.

The Empire State prohibits an employer from transferring or penalizing a police officer for failure to meet an established ticket quota.

Bill supporters point out it is possible, however, that an employer could deny a promotion to a police officer who fails to meet a quota.

A1405 would outlaw an employer from denying a promotion to an officer solely because the officer failed to meet an established quota.

The bill is in the Assembly Labor Committee. A related bill in the Senate Labor Committee covers concerns about ticket quotas.

S1253 would specify that violation of existing statute could result in up to one year in jail.


One Oklahoma state lawmaker will renew his pursuit of a rule targeting ticket quotas.

State law prohibits cities and towns from generating more than half of their revenue through traffic fines.

Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, has filed a bill to outlaw local governments and police departments from requiring officers to issue a certain number of citations within a specific period of time. Additionally, agencies would be prohibited from evaluating personnel based on the number of tickets written or arrests made.

Violators would face removal from their position.

“It’s an unspoken rule that some jurisdictions may emphasize issuing citations at different times to try and generate more revenue,” Dahm previously stated. “Our law enforcement officers, justices and judges should not be pressured by their employers to write additional tickets or collect revenue to keep their jobs.”

Dahm introduced the same bill one year ago. The Senate approved the bill but it was sidelined in the House after the disruption to the regular session because of the pandemic.

The new bill, SB346, awaits assignment to committee for the session that begins Feb. 1. LL

More state trends

Keith Goble, state legislative editor for Land Line Media, keeps track of many trends among statehouses across the U.S. Here are some other articles by him.