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Authorities leery of ticket quotas

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

When ‘Officer Friendly’ starts a patrol shift for the Park City Police Department or the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, brass at the two agencies do not expect that he or she return with a stack of traffic tickets.

That’s because neither requires officers to write a certain amount of tickets — speeding, turn-light violations and assorted other citations — during each shift. They do not use what is known as a quota system, meaning that each officer must issue a preset number of tickets.

But other agencies do employ quota systems and a Utah lawmaker wants that practice outlawed. Rep. Neil Hansen, a Democrat from Ogden, has sponsored legislation to bar ticket quotas but the bill has stalled. It passed the House of Representatives but a Senate committee then refused to advance the bill to the full Senate. Committee members failed to make a recommendation.

Summit County’s two legislators in the House, Republican Mel Brown and Democrat Christine Johnson, voted in favor of the legislation when it narrowly cleared the House, on a 39-34 vote.

"The bill does not prohibit the police from issuing citations. They can issue all the citations they want, whenever they see an infraction," Hansen told lawmakers. "What this bill does do is prohibit the police chiefs or those in administration from going out and telling their officers to go out and write so many tickets per day or per week or per month or per year."

Locally, the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office say ticket quotas are not smart law-enforcement practice. They prefer to rely on their officers’ discretion when on traffic patrols.

At the Police Department, though, whether an officer receives a bonus based on performance might partially hinge on how many traffic tickets they write, Lt. Phil Kirk acknowledges.

"Park City, with its patrol officers, there is a high priority for traffic enforcement," Kirk says. "We encourage people to stress and prioritize traffic enforcement."

He says officers risk losing a performance bonus if the number of traffic tickets issued, the number of arrests and the caseload is lower than other officers in the department. He says there is a "logical connection" between performance and the numbers.

Officers are not instructed to reserve dedicated time for traffic patrols on their shifts but they are told monitoring drivers is a priority, he says. During slow shifts, some officers revert to traffic patrols, he says.

Kirk worries ticket quotas could force officers off other duties and upset Parkites.

"What happens if the officer needs to get to that number? What if an officer has to cut corners" to reach a quota, Kirk says, adding, "It’s bad PR to have them. People will wonder what the motivation is there."

The agencies that write tickets get a small portion of the fine and, although drivers are sometimes suspicious, lawmen have long maintained that writing traffic tickets is not a method to bring in more money for the authorities.

Speeding drivers have dismayed Parkites for years and people all over the city have pressed the Police Department to conduct more patrols in their neighborhoods.

Neighbors usually happily greet the increased police presence and they sometimes ask City Hall for speed humps, electronic speed signs and residential-area signs, among other requests to cut speeding drivers.

In 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available, the Police Department issued 6,986 citations, mostly for traffic offenses, roughly 19 per day. The numbers are up sharply, 86.3 percent, in five years. In 2001, 3,750 citations were issued.

At the Sheriff’s Office, Dave Edmunds, the Republican sheriff, says quota systems are outdated and few agencies us them. Making deputies write a certain number of tickets, Edmunds says, hampers officers’ discretion.

"You’re limiting their ability to do their job. You’re interfering," Edmunds says, adding, "If you’re hiring quality people, then there’s no need for a quota."

He says deputies have standing orders to conduct traffic patrols if they are not responding to a call.

In the county, there are complaints about speeders in neighborhoods like Summit Park and Jeremy Ranch and concerns about how fast people drive on SR. 224 and other major roads. Edmunds estimates deputies typically write four or five tickets each shift during the busy tourism seasons.

Deputies could receive a superior evaluation in a year when they do not write a traffic ticket, the sheriff says.

"It’s not likely but it’s possible," Edmunds says.


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