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Police agencies have long denied persistent rumors and complaints of traffic-ticket quotas, but a former cop now serving in the Legislature says they are real.
"I worked for a police department and had to write three tickets every day. That was a quota, and they exist," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, a former West Valley City and South Jordan officer.
Wimmer's revelation came during a legislative committee session Wednesday where lawmakers discussed Ogden Rep. Neil Hansen's http://www.le.state.ut.us/search.jsp?Sess=2008GS&String=HB264&Submit=Find" Target="_BLANK">HB264 that would ban such mandates.
The bill passed handily out of committee with a 6-1 vote, but not without heated debate. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, cast the lone vote against it.
"Is this a perceived problem or a reality?" asked Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, vice-chair of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.
"Obviously, [Hansen] has talked to some officers who say they have quotas, and yet it's being contested all the way around."
The Utah Chiefs of Police Association united against the bill, favoring local control rather than the state dictating management of local law enforcement issues.
Val Shupe, South Ogden police chief and representative for the state Association of Chiefs of Police, denied his department's use of quotas and spoke out against the legislation.
"When you tell someone to go enforce the law at 40th and Washington, you are telling them to go down there and issue citations," Shupe said. "This law would prevent me from doing that."
Not so, said Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, reasoning that if departments don't have quotas, why would a law banning them cause concern?
"Where in this bill does it say it would be a violation to instruct officers to enforce the law?" Morley said, noting that it simply prohibits mandating specific citation levels.
According to Hansen, pay raises for Ogden cops are linked to the number of tickets they write.
But Mark Johnson, Ogden's management services director, called Hansen's information inaccurate.
"We haven't had a pay-for-performance plan for a few years," Johnson told lawmakers Wednesday. "We try to respond to neighborhood complaints and we also target our officers to areas where there are high volume accidents."
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Ogden Lt. David Tarran confirmed the existence of a performance standard of one ticket per week.
"Tickets are proven to reduce accidents and crime," Tarran said. "People have this negative connotation with tickets and quotas that causes a great deal of trouble."
Legislation limiting a police department's ability to establish ticket quotas would "do a great deal of harm," Tarran added.
Ticket numbers factor into West Valley City performance evaluations as well.
"Officers are monitored on how many they issue, but it's one of dozens of categories they're evaluated on," said Tom McLachlan, spokesman for West Valley City's police department.
McLaclhan acknowledged being leery of lawmakers setting policy for all of the state's police departments, when only a few are problematic with traffic-ticket quotas.
Spokesmen for the Utah Highway Patrol, West Valley City and South Jordan police departments also denied having quotas.
But Hansen and others are convinced the pay-for-performance policy peppers the state.
"I'm in favor of local control, but let's put it back in the hands of the officers. Why don't we give them the authority to decide who gets a warning and who gets a ticket?" Hansen asked.
Former lawmaker David Ure agreed, saying he had tried to pass similar legislation in the past.
"Now the problem has creeped back in and we are where we are today," Ure said. "If we have to have a quota system, it undermines the principles of why we're here in America."
"We've belabored this piece of legislation and local governments have concerns," said Lincoln Shurtz, legislative analyst for the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
The bill is too broad and needs tightening, Shurtz said, warning against legislating based on anecdote.
Shurtz acknowledged that ticket quotas - whether real or perceived - are "driving the justice court discussion as well." Some view those municipal courts as working in tandem with police to generate revenues to pad city budgets.
The bill would prohibit state and local governmental entities and law enforcement agencies from requiring or directing their officers to issue a specific number of traffic citations, complaints or warnings within a set period of time.