Traffic ticket quotas usually cost the ordinary driver more money. In a twist on that usual theme, theses quotas just cost the city of Los Angeles $4 million dollars.
Two LAPD officers, who set forth that their reputation was affected and their career damaged by refusing to meet certain traffic ticket quotas, were awarded the damages as compensation. The quota system in question was put in place by their captain at the LAPD’s West Traffic Division. The system called for issuance of at least 18 tickets per day, including a certain number of “big mover” traffic violations like speeding or red light.
“Big mover” referred to the particularly high fines associated with certain violation.
The city argued that productive traffic ticket writing was simply about trying to make roads safer, not specific quotas.
My take on the quota issue has always been that of course there are quotas. There are “quotas” in every job to some extent. I expect a certain level of productivity out of my employees and that is their “quota”. I evaluate how much they get done and how well they do their job. They get positive feedback if they meet my expectations of a productive employee, negative feedback if they produce below my expectations.
When an officer is sent out on traffic enforcement, what happens if he returns having issued zero summonses? What if he did that day after day? A supervising officer would certainly not be happy and would argue the officer isn’t doing his job. Now what happens if he issues one ticket? Two? Five? At what point is the supervising officer happy with the productivity? Whatever the answer, there’s your “quota”.
In theory, quotas aren’t entirely wrong. If an officer sits on the side of the road reading a magazine his entire shift and ignores traffic violations, he deserves to be reprimanded and accused of underperforming. The problem starts when there’s a legitimate slow day–bad weather, a holiday, Dancing with the Stars finale or other phenomenon that has reduced traffic on the road–and an officer feels pressure to produce certain numbers nonetheless. As soon as that pressure leads to the issuance of one single ticket that otherwise wouldn’t have been written we see why “quota” is a bad word that can lead to multi million dollar lawsuits.
The solution? As with just about everything else in life it’s finding a balance. Officers should be vigilant and issue tickets when they observe violations while supervising officers need to understand that officers cannot feel any pressure to issue tickets they don’t feel comfortable with. Not necessarily easy, but the other option–a hard quota–is unacceptable.
Submitted by Scott Feifer, Esq.