Ticket quotas rile motorists
Trenton, Livonia, Rochester are among police departments that tie officers' work reviews to number of citations they write.
Iveory Perkins / The Detroit News
TRENTON -- Controversial with motorists and rank-and-file cops alike, traffic ticket quotas have returned in a handful of police agencies that take advantage of a loophole in a state law that bans them.
Police from Trenton and Livonia to Ann Arbor, Rochester and Oak Park are seizing on an exception to a 1988 law that allows administrators to evaluate officers based on the number of tickets they issue. Trenton, Rochester and Oak Park go so far as to spell out the number of citations.
Police chiefs don't use the term "quota," but say "performance standards" are required to crack down on traffic infractions that happen every day. But unions and some motorists call the practice a blatant grab for tens of thousands of dollars a year during tough economic times.
"There are real criminals out here, and they are trying to meet a quota," said Hannah Johnson, 21, of Westland who wept in 16th District Court in Livonia last week after learning she would have to pay $180 to settle a disputed ticket for driving with an expired license.
"They don't care that I have bills. They are going after free money."
In Trenton, contract negotiations between the city and police union have bogged down over a policy requiring the 24 patrol officers to write 15 tickets a month or suffer on annual performance reviews. Fines from the tickets generated $31,398 for the city last year -- down from $50,254 in 2001, according to Margaret Krizan, administrator of the 33rd District Court in Trenton.
The situation is so rancorous that Police Chief Rick Newsome acknowledges that officers who stop motorists apologize by saying, "The chief is making me write tickets."
He makes no apologies, claiming officers simply "stopped writing tickets" without the system. Trenton added the policy in 2004, amid a plunge in the number of tickets. Officers have written 2,000 this year, down from 6,000 in 2001.
"Writing tickets is a part of the job," Newsome said. "We have a fair system, and we aren't preying on the citizens."
State gets percentage
Contrary to popular belief, ticket revenues are spread far beyond municipal general funds. In Michigan, most of the money from tickets -- 40 percent -- goes to the state, while the rest goes to counties, district courts and cities, according to Krizan.
Still, the money trickles down to municipalities, and Trenton Sgt. Richard Lyons accused the city of "using police officers as a way to make money."
"When I was hired 20 years ago, this was about taking pride in your job, fighting crime, but now tickets seem to be the focus of our existence," said Lyons, president of Trenton's police union.
State lawmakers banned quotas in 1979, but created the exception in 1988 that allows them in officers' evaluations as long as ticket writing is weighed equally among other job criteria.
The law hasn't quelled the controversy. In addition to Trenton, police unions in Oak Park and Rochester have challenged the evaluations, claiming they are too subjective, cause an injustice to motorists and limit the discretion of patrol officers.
Critics contend the practice replaces friendly warnings with tickets that lead to hefty fines and penalties by insurers -- and begs the question of justice because sometimes the most tickets are written at month's end to meet quotas.
Under state law, a driver with more than seven points on his or her driving record can be denied auto coverage.
A person caught driving less than 10 miles over the speed limit adds two points, and driving 15 miles or more over is four points, said Peter Kuhnmuench, executive director of the Insurance Institute of Michigan.
In Michigan, that can mean big bucks.
The average policy costs $1,500, according to DMV, a private company based in San Diego that tracks information on auto insurance, vehicle registration and driver's licenses. Those with clean records pay about $300 less; speeding tickets lose that discount and cause higher premiums.
"I got a ticket on Interstate 96 a year ago, and it killed my insurance rates," said Frank Saad, 18, of Northville. "I don't like the quota thing because the cops will pull you over for absolutely nothing."
Rochester sets daily total
In Rochester, the police union lost an arbitration case Sept. 1 that claimed officers are unfairly disciplined because traffic enforcement is the primary standard for evaluations. The department requires an officer to average three ticket stops and 1 1/2 tickets per eight-hour shift.
In 2005, Rochester officers issued 3,828 tickets, down from 4,621 in 2001. With two months left in the year, the city so far has made $61,936 from tickets; compared to $62,684 in 2005, said Linda Hammerstein, court administrator for the 52nd District Court-3rd Division.
Oak Park settled a similar arbitration case in 1998, when the police union challenged the ticket quota mandated in officers' performance evaluations. Officers must make one traffic stop per 12-hour shift and issue a ticket every other day to be rated as satisfactory on evaluations.
Rochester Police Chief Ted Glynn defended the system, but acknowledged it "causes a rift" between police brass and officers.
Overall, 95 percent of complaints from citizens are about traffic safety, he said.
"The performance standard helps motivate every single patrol person to remember that traffic enforcement is an important part of their job," Glynn said.
"Traffic enforcement saves lives and helps bring down accidents. Money has absolutely nothing to do with it; it costs us more to do traffic enforcement than we are ever able to recoup through court fines."
In Livonia, tickets are among 21 standards used to evaluate officers. In Ann Arbor, officers must initiate "activities" that lead to tickets and drunken driving arrests, said Lt. Michael Logghe.
"No one has been suspended for this portion of the evaluation, but I always question why an officer would complain about writing tickets," Logghe said.
Even so, the issue continues and has some police officers perturbed. In Rochester, the issue will return in contract negotiations when the current deal expires in June, said Keith Harper, president of the city's police union.
"It limits our discretion, especially toward the end of the month; if an officer hasn't met quota, cars will be stopped for any and everything, because they don't want to be written up or suspended," Harper said.
You can reach Iveory Perkins at (734) 462-2672 or firstname.lastname@example.org.