PHOENIX — If you’ve ever felt like a cop wrote you a ticket just to meet a quota, you could be right.
Police officers say they do get such pressure.
But a Southern Arizona lawmaker hopes to put a stop to the practice by making it illegal.
HB 2410 would bar the state’s cities and their police departments from setting any sort of minimum in the number of citations an officer has to issue. The legislation also would make the question of how many — or how few — tickets are issued off limits in determining promotions and pay raises.
The measure is set for a hearing Monday afternoon before the House Committee on County and Municipal Affairs.
Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said he hears from police officers that they are facing increased pressure to whip out their ticket books and write citations.
He is not alone. His legislation has drawn a bipartisan list of co-sponsors.
Sometimes the quotas are overt. That’s what’s happened in Tucson.
“Our traffic numbers were just really low,” Chief Roberto Villaseñor explained. “Our officers were issuing (an average of) one citation every couple of weeks, which is totally unacceptable.”
His directive last year for more contact resulted only in written warnings, which he said was unacceptable.
“I want behaviors changed,” Villaseñor said. And he said issuing one ticket a day is “easy to do.”
The one-ticket-a-day policy went into effect in June. The results, he said, were immediate: Accidents went down, arrests went up, calls were down and even response times were down.
In September, Villaseñor agreed to back off a bit. He amended the policy to require one “traffic contact” a day, which could be either a citation or a warning.
Stevens, however, said Tucson police officers remain concerned, and think the Legislature needs to step in to set the ground rules.
There was no immediate response to the legislation from the Tucson Police Officers Association.
Sometimes, though, the quotas are less clearly stated. That’s the case in Phoenix according to Joe Clure, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
Clure, a 32-year department veteran, said there is no specific stated number of tickets he is supposed to write. But he said the pressures remain.
“Cops are competitive people by nature,” Clure said. “You’ll get a sergeant that wants to be (at) the top of the productivity list, the most tickets, so he can look good to the commander.”
He said sometimes police departments believe “more enforcement is better.” But Clure said sometimes these decisions are made largely to generate revenues for the community.
Other communities have their own standards.
In Camp Verde, for example, town Marshall Nancy Gardner said there are no quotas as they could be seen as taking away officer discretion.
“The goal is to change driving patterns and to provide education,” she said. But Gardner said when her agency conducts certain enforcement details, there may be a “zero tolerance level” that requires officers to write citations for any offense they find.
At the state Department of Public Safety, spokesman Bart Graves said there are no quotas spelling out how many tickets an officer has to issue.
“We measure performance standards through a number of factors,” Graves said. “Citations is just one factor.”
Levi Bolton, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, said the real problem with quotas, whether overtly stated or otherwise, is one of public perception.
He said there is already a climate where people believe that officers “sit and lay in wait or profile them.” Bolton said that is also part of a national discussion of whether there is a disconnect between police officers and the people they serve.
“This has a chilling effect on those relationships when we can’t let people go or give them a warning,” Bolton said, adding “10 or 15 minutes worth of that good contact goes much, much further than creating a recalcitrant, angry person who believes this could have been handled a different way.”
The effect of Stevens’ proposal, if approved, is less than clear.
Villaseñor pointed out his policy requires only traffic contacts, and not that officers each issue a set number of citations.
But he remains concerned the legislation could impair his ability to run his department.
“Chiefs should be allowed to set work performance standards,” Villaseñor said.
The chief said he appreciates his officers concerns that staffing is tight.
Villaseñor said they fear if they’re out writing tickets then they are not available to take other calls and provide backup for their colleagues.
“I understand that,” Villaseñor said. “But as the chief I felt it was my responsibility to dictate what our priorities are.
“And traffic enforcement is definitely a priority because we lose more lives and have more injury and property damage in traffic-related incidents than violent crime,” he said.