8/10/2005Ticket Quota Cover-up Continues with Pennsylvania State Police
Pennsylvania State Troopers receive monetary bounty for writing additional traffic tickets and are punished for speaking out against the system.
Pennsylvania State Police documents show that not only is there a system of monetary reward and punishment for state troopers based upon numeric ticket goals, there is a clear effort to prevent anyone from ever speaking about it. The first rule of a ticket quota is: there is no ticket quota.
The primary reason for the denial is a 1981 Pennsylvania law banning the practice of "directly or indirectly" suggesting that an individual police officer should issue "a certain number of traffic citations."
In 2002, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette uncovered the creative methods that top police officials developed to avoid the letter of the law. The specific number of tickets that troopers must now meet is known as the "station average." Each trooper must log the number of traffic stops and citations and if a trooper for any reason issues fewer tickets than his colleagues -- the station average -- he will be disciplined.
Our investigation shows that the practice continues and that those who issue more than the station average number of traffic tickets are given a fifty percent salary bonus in the form of construction overtime.
"If the station average is five tickets and you write ten, you're getting overtime," a trooper who requested anonymity explained to TheNewspaper.com. "The effect is to increase the average."
Construction overtime is a particularly desirable form of low-effort duty where officers are paid time-and-a-half to sit in their patrol cars with their red flashing lights activated to alert motorists of upcoming road construction hazards. On "premium" holidays, pay is doubled. Awarding this duty is solely at the station commander's discretion.
Another turnpike trooper cited an email sent to troopers at a station last month in which a sergeant used his discretion to obtain numeric citation goals. "He advised them that if they didn't write citations that they weren't going to get any overtime," the trooper said, not wanting to share a copy for fear the entire station would be punished if it were made public.
Punishment for individuals often takes the form of a formal, written reprimand known as a "Supervisor's Notation" which commanders use to enforce discipline.
"I directed you to NOT schedule Trooper [name withheld] for any additional voluntary, construction overtime until his statistics, particularly in the area of traffic enforcement, improved," Lt. Thomas F. Traister, Eastern Section Commander for Troop T, wrote in a 2001 Supervisor's Notation (view documents, 682k PDF format). Troop T patrols 525 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Traister wrote this formal reprimand after one officer's immediate superiors, a sergeant and corporal, each agreed that the trooper's performance was "commendable." On average, the trooper in question assisted more motorists than his colleagues -- he only lacked in the number of revenue-generating citations issued. Traister points out that after being warned about the need to issue more citations, the trooper quickly began to bring in a large number of traffic citations and exceeded the station average. The reprimand was about one thing: numbers.
Rank-and-file police officers warn that the emphasis on numbers forces them to focus on generating a large number of easy stops. This means that the more dangerous drivers, being more difficult to catch, are more likely to get away. "If I am 10 away from my target number and I only have a few shifts left, I am going to take whatever I can get," a trooper explained. "As a result, the serious traffic offender has a better chance of evading apprehension. It's a numbers game."
The overtime system is not the proper means of enforcing discipline. Pennsylvania police regulations outline a very specific process to deal with underperforming officers, up to and including an internal investigation. This process gives the "underperforming" employee a chance to review the evidence against him and allows him a formal opportunity to challenge any resulting punishment.
The overtime system bypasses these protections entirely, but it is not the only tool that station commanders across the state have devised to suggest that troopers write a certain number of citations. We spoke to another trooper who had been relocated from the Northwest corner of Pennsylvania to the Southeast corner, more than two hundred miles away, because he devoted more attention to assisting motorists than citing them.
"I was told that if I ever wanted to get closer to home I'd better write more traffic citations," the trooper, who also requested anonymity, said.
In private, officials tacitly acknowledge the existence of a quota. "I eventually had a meeting with the lieutenant over it," the same trooper continued. "Upon pressing her for what I was doing that was against regulations or not in the best interest of the public or department, the best explanation she could give me was that what I did was valuable and necessary but didn't bring in enough revenue."
In public, however, it is standard practice for police to deny the existence of a quota, even to the point of using misleading words under oath. In a formal deposition in July 2004, the same Lt. Traister who directed a subordinate not to issue construction overtime testified, "I do not get involved in the operation or the assignment of overtime." When confronted with a copy of the above-mentioned memo, Traister responded, "I was merely passing along this assignment from the commanding officer."
Troopers maintain that even though they know the emphasis on writing citations undermines the integrity of the force, they face punishment if they speak out against the situation. For example, after media reports sparked an internal investigation into quota allegations in 2003, our documents show that supervisors intervened in the investigation. These officers held one-on-one meetings with individual troopers before they were called to speak with investigators about the matter. According to one memo, the outcome of one such set of meetings was that the trooper "stated he does not want to speak with [the investigator]."
"You can't come forward and tell the truth or else they will get you," a state trooper explained. "The fact of the matter is they use intimidation. The guys don't want to come forward because they don't want to be next. They have families to feed."
And because the top police officials control every aspect of internal investigations, the conclusion is never anything other than, "there is no quota."
Eric Skrum, spokesman for the National Motorists Association says that, whatever name you give it, this system is bad for both the public and police. "The public receives unjustified tickets and increased insurance charges. At the same time, the police are harmed because the public has less confidence in them. There are better ways to evaluate the performance of the police."
Selected documents available in a 682k PDF document at the source link below.