Goal of traffic enforcement should be to change behavior, not punish or fill quotas
August 03, 2013 10:58 PM | 1073 views | 0 0 comments | 62 62 recommendations | email to a friend | print
My police department’s new chief of police in 1989 asked me to accompany him on his first speaking engagement. He figured I had historical knowledge of the city that he might need. A citizen asked the new chief if his police department had quotas. The chief replied, “No” and turned to me and said, “Do we?” My response was quick as a wink. “No sir,” I replied, “But remember you promised I would get a free microwave oven if I write 3 more tickets this week.”

The audience laughed heartily, but I hope they knew I was only joking about a departmental quota. It only took a millisecond, however, to read the chief’s body language and realize I had made a CLM (careerlimiting move). I assumed he was embarrassed because I got a laugh and stole his show.

One dictionary defines “ticket quota” as the least number of traffic citations a police officer is required to issue in a set period of time. In my career, I have never known of a police department that required a quota, but I am sure there are a few law enforcement agencies around the country that do. Quotas are rightfully prohibited by law in many areas.

Why do police officers write traffic citations in the first place? I am sure the answer varies depending on who you ask, but a neighboring police chief said, “The constitutional answer is based on public safety. Some law enforcement officials and public administrators lose sight of the overwhelming fact that traffic enforcement lowers the number of traffic accidents. Often times the concern is too much about generating revenue. Some law enforcement administrators even use the number of traffic citations as a measure of an officer’s productivity. The unfortunate byproduct of this behavior is a disgruntled public who feel they have been treated unfairly.” Police departments need a partnership with the public, and quotas work heavily to destroy that positive relationship.

My experience has shown that high accident locations enjoy a reduction in accidents when law enforcement officers increase traffic enforcement. For some serial violators, it is a matter of odds. If someone doesn’t receive a traffic citation for several years, that person might get the feeling he/she is protected from following the law. Traffic enforcement is not intended to punish but rather change bad driving behavior. Bad driving behavior is likely the product of personal agendas and the feeling of superiority by individual drivers.

The most professionally informed police officers and law enforcement administrators use good judgment and do not lose sight of the justifiable purpose of traffic enforcement, which is to reduce traffic related property damage, injuries, and fatalities. No one wants a traffic citation, but most drivers who blatantly violate traffic laws do it knowing- ly. Should we not conduct ourselves so that we can avoid an LLM (life-limiting move)?

I have a personal quota of living as many healthy days as possible. I also have historical knowledge that violating traffic laws can be deadly, quick as a wink.

Charlie Sewell is the Powder Springs chief of police. His column runs occasionally in the Marietta Daily Journal.
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