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(WHNT) — We’ve all been there — blue lights flashing in the rearview, white-knuckling the steering wheel, wondering if we’ll be able to explain a lead foot.
“Got a quota to meet, huh, officer?”
Law enforcement officials hear it all the time. But what used to be a running joke is something agencies across the country find themselves battling every day. Misconceptions also imply speed traps are set to try to squeeze more money out of residents to benefit the department.
However, speeding ticket or traffic citation “quotas” have actually been prohibited or banned in some states, with the threat of penalties if a quota is enforced in other areas.
“Our ticket quota is right in line with our donut quota. Every ticket, we get a donut,” Alabama’s Lauderdale County Sheriff Joe Hamilton joked. “Seriously, we do not have a quota on tickets, and it is my understanding that having such a quota is illegal.”
There are now more than 20 states across the country, including Alabama and Tennessee, that have made efforts to discourage traditions that pressure law enforcement into meeting ticket quotas.
“We do not have any type of quotas on tickets, warnings or arrests,” explained Alabama’s Tuscumbia Police Department Chief Tony Logan. “The only thing we ask, not to require, is that our officers try to have two contacts per 12-hour shift other than dispatched calls. That can be a walk-through at any of the schools/daycares in Tuscumbia. It can be simply talking to a business owner/operator, a resident outside working in their yard or someone walking at the athletic track for exercise. The main goal is to further improve our relationship with our community.”
Other police departments across the state emphatically denied having quotes as well.
“The Huntsville (Alabama) Police Department does not have a quota when it comes to traffic citations,” added Sgt. Rosalind White. “Our enforcement of traffic violations is to educate the public on roadway safety and reduce traffic crashes in areas that have had a relatively high number of traffic crashes. Based on statistical data, we take a proactive approach to traffic enforcement measures in high accident locations. This is often done by high-visibility saturation patrols or high-volume traffic stops in targeted areas.”
Saying “we do not have speeding ticket quotas,” Alabama’s Priceville Police Chief Jerry Holmes explained their police presence on what he called one “dangerous stretch of highway.”
“The speed limit on Hwy 67 in the city limits is 50 mph,” Holmes said. “We have learned that if we do not monitor that closely, speeders get upwards of 70-80 mph without even thinking about it, which in turn, contributes to traffic accidents. Trust me, it’s all in the name of safety and saving lives.”
Other areas said issuing citations is at the discretion of the officer.
“It is total deputy discretion,” said Rocky Harnen with Alabama’s Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, “based on seriousness, area (school zones) and the attitude of the driver.”
Chief Deputy Willie Orr with Alabama’s Marshall County Sheriff’s Office agreed. “There is a great deal of discretion in law enforcement, and, when possible, we allow our deputies to make decisions as to whether or not to take enforcement action.”
Tennessee’s Fayetteville Police Department also denied having quotas, explaining that its officers take a “proactive” approach.
“We like to see our officers proactive with traffic stops, especially in certain areas of concern,” said Administrative Commander Coby Templeton. “We receive complaints throughout the week of speeders, loud music, truck route violations, or other traffic offenses in various areas of town. We try to patrol these areas aggressively.
“There is also the matter of policing for profit. The police department is not a means to generate revenue. Certain moral questions and implications are raised in this action. Placing a quota can appear to blur that line. Our goal should be to promote public welfare, peace, and safety.”
Other states that have shunned quotas include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
In some communities, however, the National Motorists Association said “speed traps” certainly do exist (even regardless of some state bans), defining such traps as areas where “traffic enforcement is focused on extracting revenue from drivers instead of improving safety.”
Yet, the funds from tickets aren’t divvied up as you might expect. In fact, law enforcement agencies get very little from tickets that are issued, with a majority of the money going straight into city and state funds.
The money also goes to such areas as the DNA Database Fund and the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
Of course, every agency, municipality and state will vary. So if you’re curious, it’s as easy as requesting a breakdown from your local clerk’s office.