Three states continue push to end ticket quotas
May 13, 2020
Legislators in states around the country continue to pursue action intended to put an end to police ticket quotas.
Communities all over the map can raise money from different types of fines. In some locales, fines account for more than half of local revenue. 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 revenue. There are 80 where the share exceeded 50%.
States with the most municipalities exceeding the 50% threshold are Louisiana, Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas.
About 20 states have acted to discourage practices that pressure law enforcement officers to write tickets or meet ticket quotas.
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.
A bipartisan effort at the statehouse is intended to curb policing for profit.
New Jersey law prohibits ticketing numbers from being the “sole” factor when evaluating officer performance.
Assemblyman Harold Wirths, R-Hardyston, introduced a bill last week to 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.
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.
Following a break at the statehouse due to coronavirus concerns, pursuit has been renewed in the Oklahoma House to advance a bill targeting ticket quotas.
State law prohibits cities and towns from generating more than half of their revenue through traffic fines.
One Senate-approved bill would go further to combat ticket quota systems.
Sponsored by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, SB1264 would 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 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.”
The bill awaits consideration in the House.
There is already a law in the books preventing the practice of ticket quotas in Tennessee. Despite the proactive step taken by the state Legislature, some say there are “no teeth” to the law.
Senators voted unanimously in early March to advance a bill to put some bite into the rule. Shortly after the vote, however, legislators left the statehouse due to COVID-19 concerns. They have yet to return to the capitol to continue the state’s business.
With an expected June 1 return date to the capitol, advocates are hopeful the bill to specify a penalty will get lawmakers’ attention.
Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, has said the need for including a punishment for breaking the rule is highlighted by recent illegal activity in one community north of Nashville.
Ridgetop, Tenn., is intersected by U.S. 41 in Davidson and Robertson counties.
Roberts said during committee discussion on the bill the town’s police department wrote about $250,000 in traffic tickets. Roberts said a city that size should be more in line with $30,000 in tickets.
Police said elected officials were responsible for the practice.
“The law had been broken, but there was no consequence so nothing could be done about it,” Roberts testified. “In so doing, we basically told every municipality in Tennessee ‘go ahead and have your ticket quota, because even though it is against the law there’s not a thing in the world anyone’s going to do about it.’”
His bill adds a consequence for ticket quotas. Specifically, public officials directing law enforcement to issue a certain number of tickets would be subject to a $500 fine.
SB2458 awaits assignment to a House committee.
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.