States take action to end ticket quotas

April 11, 2022

Keith Goble

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Action taken at the Alabama and Virginia statehouses address the concern about practices that force law enforcement officers to partake in ticket quotas. Efforts in other states also cover the issue.

Communities nationwide are able to generate revenue from different types of fines. In certain locales, fines account for a disproportionate amount 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.”

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

State legislators from Alabama to Virginia have taken up for consideration rules aimed to eliminate potential abuses.

Alabama

The Alabama House has voted to advance a bill that is intended to discourage ticketing abuses.

Sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, the bill would limit the amount of money a municipality could retain from fines and penalties from traffic tickets.

Specifically, municipal traffic fines and penalties could not exceed 10% of the municipality’s total general operating budget.

Excess funds would be deposited in a crime victims fund and a court fund.

Gudger said the threshold was determined following a survey of municipalities to determine the how much of their budgets came from traffic tickets.

An amendment to the bill would not apply the rule to Class 1 municipalities. The revision covers the city of Birmingham.

The exception was made after a review that showed the city’s ticket revenue amounted to about 2% of the budget.

The bill, SB282, now moves to the governor’s desk. Senate lawmakers already approved the bill by unanimous consent.

Michigan

Two Michigan bills would revise the state’s rule on issuing citations.

Since 2010, Michigan law prohibits a police officer from being required to issue a certain number of citations for traffic offenses.

According to a legislative analysis at the time, even though police departments were generally prohibited from requiring officers to write a specified number of tickets, there were reports about departments that engaged in related practices. Examples included offering prizes to the officer who writes the most tickets in a time period or withholding promotions from officers who issue few tickets.

The 2010 law attempted to address concerns about abuse. However, an exception provided in the law authorizes ticket numbers to be used as part of a police officer’s evaluation system.

The lone requirement for inclusion of the ticket writing component is that the issuance of citations is not given any greater consideration than any other factor in the evaluation of an officer’s performance.

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, is behind a bill to prohibit a police officer’s performance evaluation from including any consideration of citations issued.

The bill, SB599, is in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. A similar House bill, HB5723, is in the House Government Operations Committee.

New York

In New York, bills in both chambers also cover the issue of ticket quotas.

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

Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, D-Nanuet, has pointed out it is possible, however, that an employer could deny a promotion to a police officer who failed to meet a quota.

“Penalties should always be used as a means to an end – incentivizing compliance – and should never come to be viewed as a guaranteed source of revenue,” Reichlin-Melnick wrote in a bill memo.

A1187/S8259 would outlaw state agencies from imposing or suggesting any enforcement quota. Agencies would be forbidden from using ticketing numbers as the primary criteria to evaluate officers.

Ticketing numbers could not be used to reward performance nor be used to transfer, reassign, dismiss, or deny a promotion.

The bills await committee consideration.

Tennessee

Action pursued in the Tennessee General Assembly intended to combat speed traps has died.

Sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, the bill would require law enforcement officers to issue only a warning for the first offense of speeding violations when traveling less than 7 mph over the posted speed limit.

The rule would apply to highways and streets. The warning rule would not apply to certain areas that include work zones.

Bowling said during committee consideration the bill is intended to address situations where there is a sudden drop in the posted speed limit.

The Tennessee Department of Safety told the committee the agency currently is not able to track warnings. As a result, law enforcement agencies around the state would not know whether a driver previously received a warning for a speed limit violation up to 7 mph in excess of a posted speed limit.

Critics said there is concern about the public knowing they would get “a free pass” to speed up to 7 mph above the speed limit.

The bill, SB2700, was held in committee for further consideration. The House version, HB2772, was rejected by the House Transportation Subcommittee.

Virginia

A new law in Virginia prohibits law enforcement agencies from setting ticket quotas.

SB327/HB750 prohibit agencies from using the number of arrests or citations issued by an officer from being the sole criteria in officer evaluation.

The rule applies to the state police, sheriff’s departments, and local police.

During a Senate committee hearing, at least one committee member expressed surprise that quotas exist in Virginia.

“You used to hear about these all the time many, many, many, many years ago. I thought that was pretty much something that is done away with,” said Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “You’re saying it still exists?”

Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, said that some departments within the state continue to have quotas.

“We just want to put an end to it,” Reeves said.

The new ticket quotas rule takes effect on July 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 recent articles by him.

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.