Recently, Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill prohibiting police departments, both state and local, from creating quotas for both tickets and arrests. The law explicitly prohibits departments from punishing officers for not meeting a specific number. Proponents of the new bill say that the new rule allows policeman to do their jobs more efficiently rather than being a mere “revenue-generating machine.” Senator Howard Stephenson of Draper, one of the sponsors of the new bill, said that he was approached by several former police officers who felt the pressure to meet the quotas as “unethical.”
Senator Don Ipson said, according to an article on stgeorgeutah.com, too many cities rely on revenue generated from traffic stops. Later, on the floor of Utah’s state senate, he said, “I think stops ought to be encouraged . . . If there’s a problem area, such as a high concentration of crashes, the bill would prevent police chiefs from targeting those areas with quotas to cut down on accidents and save lives. We have no business telling them how to run their police department.” With this new law, the officers have “point of contracts” which will still include the overall number of traffic stops, arrests, and warnings. These key indicators will still be tied to performance evaluations.
This new bill is attacking the idea of police quotas head on. For years, one of the dirty little secrets that police departments didn’t like to talk about was quota-based policing. Critics have long held that by setting a specific number of tickets that an officer has to write corrodes citizens’ relationship with the police department. Similarly, in some areas of the country, critics claim the policy tends to target minorities disproportionately.
In an article featured on NPR’s website, New York Police officer Adhyl Polanco admits that his supervisors typically focus on two things: tickets and arrests. In other words, quantifiable data. Polanco told NPR, “I can tell my supervisors that I took three people to the hospital and I saved their lives. That the child that I helped deliver is healthy. . . I can tell them that. But that’s not going to cut it.” In New York’s police department, there is an expected “20 and one,” meaning 20 tickets written and one arrest per month.
Some areas of Utah do not currently emphasize the quota-system. For example, St. George Police officer Lona Tombley clarified that although many people circulate the rumor that citations are given only to produce more revenue to run the city or police department. In his 12 years with the St. George Police Department, he has never had a quota. A retired St. George officer, Craig Harding said that one of the reasons the department never instituted a quota system was because it just doesn’t work. “We never had a mandatory quota, nor would they ever institute a mandatory quota because it would be the wrong thing to do,” Harding said.
Proponents of police quota systems argue that the quota discourages bad behavior. A police officer cannot simply pull you over for no apparent reason. The officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that the detainee is committing or has committed a crime. This standard can help safeguard against abuses. This means when a police officer pulls someone over to appease a quota system, the person has actually had a violation of some sort. Anger toward the quota policy, then, functions as a sort of scapegoat for someone who has made a violation of some sort. For instance, after getting pulled over, a driver might think the only reason they are getting pulled over is due to the quota-system and not necessarily because they were driving 15 miles over the speed limit. “Why isn’t the officer out catching the real criminals?” the reasoning goes.
The quota system also aids in preventing people from continuing to participate in the behavior. According to the Tax Foundation, government levies take three different forms: taxes, fees, and penalties. Penalties include things like speeding tickets and other citations. The Tax Foundation admits that the fact that these penalties do help with revenue is tangential. If the government needs to fund itself, it has other means of accomplishing this goal, for example, taxes. When people receive a ticket for speeding, the hope is that they will be more circumspect in their actions after that. The quota system assumes that there are a large number of people participating in dangerous behavior and the quota gives the impetus for police officers to go out, target that act, and prevent it via citation.
At The Advocates Law Firm, it is not customary for us to take formal positions on legislation. This new law does bring some interesting questions forward. For example, will the new law have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of tickets issued by police departments across the state? Will this result in less safe driving? Although it is now illegal to set a police department quota, is it “unethical” to do so? Share your thoughts with us.