We don't often find ourselves in agreement with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, but last Sunday marked an exception. That's the day when Gov. Quinn signed into law a measure forbidding police agencies in Illinois to have ticket quotas. We think Kentucky would do well to enact a similar law.
The Illinois law forbids police agencies from comparing citation numbers when deciding officers' promotions or raises. State Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, told the Washington Post the quotas undermine public trust and focus police efforts on the wrong priorities. "By eliminating these quotas we can restore that trust and ensure that police officers are free to do their job protecting the public," he said.
The Post reports that the law was passed overwhelmingly despite "fierce criticism" from some police departments that contended quotas are crucial to motivating officers and measuring performance.
The police chief of Peoria told legislators his officers were expected to write up 10 traffic and municipal ordinance violations per month. He said eliminating the quota would result in slack enforcement by officers. (We find that view troubling. It suggests the chief lacks confidence in the work ethic and professionalism of his officers.)
The Post also notes a controversy that erupted in Carbondale last summer after it was disclosed that officers there were each required to file 40 reports of "suspicious characters" per month.
That gets a bit outside the realm of ticket quotas, but it does underscore how quotas generally can work to undermine the discretion of officers and focus manpower on dubious work to the exclusion of more pressing and often evolving priorities and situations.
In addition to Illinois, California has a ticket quota ban (Los Angeles police have paid out $10 million in civil judgments for violating it, the Post reports). Oklahoma also passed a ban this year and that law is awaiting the governor's signature.
In addition to misallocations of police time and resources, we think quotas tend to be inherently unfair. As the quota deadline draws near, there is a strong incentive for officers who have not met their quota to stop and ticket people for de minimus violations that are almost certainly overlooked earlier in the tracking period. People end up not being treated equally and that does indeed undermine public trust in police agencies.
The good news is that police agencies we checked with locally say they don't use quotas. Paducah Police Chief Brandon Barnhill told the Sun his department has no use for ticket quotas. "We require our officers to be active, but they use their own discretion when to write tickets," he said.
Benton Police Chief Tracy Watwood likewise says he relies on his officers' discretion. He said he disagrees with quotas and his department has never used them.
However we do recall a controversy some years back involving the Kentucky State Police. It came down to a battle of semantics, if memory serves, but what the KSP employed at the time certainly looked, walked and quacked like a quota. And we suspect that just as in Illinois, there are a fair number of true believers in departments around Kentucky who do employ ticket quotas.
We agree with those who conclude that ticket quotas on balance are a bad practice, and we think legislation to ban them in Kentucky would enjoy broad support from people of all political persuasions.