Gary police traffic ticket quota blasted
By Lori Caldwell firstname.lastname@example.org May 28, 2011 9:50PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
GARY — Motorists driving on Gary streets should be on extra alert: Traffic cops are under orders to issue tickets more than once an hour, every day all day.
Claiming they want to increase productivity, Gary police administrators ordered traffic officers to write at least 10 tickets per shift.
But prosecutors, defense attorneys and the Fraternal Order of Police say quotas can have a negative impact on public perception, police morale and convictions on all levels.
“It’s not good for us,” Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said last week.
“I try to talk to police all the time, tell them to be sensitive to members of the public, use some discretion. Setting a strict requirement removes some of that discretion,” Carter said.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61 President Del Stout agreed.
“Instituting quotas not only diminishes an officer’s discretionary power, it can create an unnecessary financial hardship on citizens,” he said.
Cmdr. Timothy Tatum said he issued the order requiring at least 10 citations a day from each officer assigned to the traffic division. “That is the standard I set to increase productivity,” he said through police spokesman Lt. Samuel Roberts.
Tatum acknowledged there would be occasions when an officer would be unable to meet his demands, such as a fatal crash or some other major event during the shift that takes up an inordinate amount of time.
His order will stand, he said, “as long as I am their commander.”
Roberts said Deputy Chief Michael Mallett consulted with Indiana State Police before the minimum ticket requirement was announced earlier this month.
But ISP spokesman Sgt. Dave Bursten said his department “does not utilize or support a quota system.” Instead, troopers must make two traffic stops per hour while on patrol, and those stops should result in either a ticket or a warning, he said.
“We feel that quotas may take away officer discretion and are not an effective way to measure performance and service to the public. As a matter of fact, the Indiana State Police helped to shepherd a bill through the Indiana Legislature in 1994 that would prohibit the department from ever using traffic tickets as a primary or sole means of evaluating our troopers,” Bursten said.
Robert Harper, well-known Porter County defense attorney, said quotas help lawyers challenge the validity of the officer’s action.
“Any intentional bias can be brought out,” he said. “The officer has an interest in keeping his job, so he writes more tickets to meet his quota.”
Harper said defense lawyers might challenge the ticket by comparing an officer’s statistics. “If they have been averaging 50 a month, then all of a sudden they’re writing 200, that’s a basis to challenge the action.”
And when a questionable traffic stop results in an arrest for more serious charges, defense attorneys can present legal arguments that could result in the entire case being dismissed, he explained.
Carter said he’d rather see police make more traffic stops to talk to drivers about what they did wrong, or issue a warning instead of a ticket.
“A good police officer should be able to show you that he’s made 25 or 30 stops, used his discretion, reached out to drivers and communicated with them,” Carter said.
Stout said, too, that the problem could be addressed first with direct conversation both with drivers and internally at the Police Department.
“If there’s one or two officers who aren’t working up to capacity, then have some one-on-one communication with them, tell them what you expect. A quota system can have an impact on an officer’s morale by taking away his discretion. He may have wanted to give a driver a break, but he can’t because of the demands of his superiors,” Stout said.
Preference for contacts
Many departments do encourage officers to have a minimum number of contacts, or self-initiated activities, Stout said. That allows the officer to make decisions based on experience, the attitude of the driver and other factors, he added.
Carter said he tells police to consider “the bigger picture” when they’re on the street with their ticket books.
“We get jurors on murder trials and ask them if they’ve had a negative experience with police. It’s always a traffic ticket,” Carter said. “Then they don’t want to believe the police who testify.”
Reach Lori Caldwell at 648-3258.