Traffic Ticket Quotas

by Howard Ankin
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The policy of assigning quotas for the number of traffic tickets each officer must issue officially ended in Illinois after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in June. This is good news for some drivers but ending the policy could have an effect on how Illinois police are evaluated as well as how much money some municipalities will earn from ticketing motorists.

In many jurisdictions, ticket quotas were one of those traditions like doughnuts – always around but hidden in a drawer and not on the top of the desk where visitors might be able to see them. Quotas do have an upside for municipalities as traffic tickets generate income through fines. They also serve as an easy performance-measuring device for supervisors in police departments, since ticket numbers are verifiable. But the practice drew the fury of drivers who would often complain – unsuccessfully – that they were victims of an arbitrary rush on the part of police to meet a numerical goal. Some drivers argued that the number of tickets had risen at one point as a means of building public pressure to resolve tense labor negotiations between the police union and the city.

Quinn was noted as saying that the law, which was overwhelmingly backed by both houses of the legislature, will allow police to exercise judgment when deciding whether to ticket a driver rather than simply pursuing a fixed number of citations during every shift. The law, which immediately went into effect, applies to local, county and state law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement officers should have discretion on when and where to issue traffic citations and not be forced to ticket motorists to satisfy a quota system the Governor said in a news release; “This new law will improve safety and working conditions for police officers and prevent motorists from facing unnecessary anxiety when they encounter a police vehicle.”

The Illinois law applies to the range of citations that police issue, including parking, speeding and other functions. It also specifically bars municipalities from using the number of tickets issued by an officer in their performance reviews. In a statement in April, as the measure was still being discussed, John H. Kennedy, executive director of the Illinois Assn. of Chiefs of Police, issued a statement opposing the bill.

While law enforcement executives strongly agree with eliminating the imposition of arbitrary traffic ticket quotas, the bill also eliminated vital data-driven performance measures used to assist in the performance appraisal of police officers. This bill could essentially strip the ability of law enforcement leaders to establish expectations for officers and to hold officers accountable for certain minimum performance standards. The bill does address the concerns of drivers who felt that law enforcement officers had arbitrarily targeted them in order to maintain their ticket quotas.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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