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I always wondered about this. When times are tough, the officers seem to start getting stricter, writing tickets in cases where they may otherwise give a warning or not bother to pull you over. No, I didn't just get pulled over, but I have been seeing more cars pulled over on my commutes to/from work each day.

The police departments will of course say that they apply the law equally, and it doesn't matter whether the Dow's at 13k or 6k, a person going 90 on the freeway will get pulled over. The conspiracy theorists will say that traffic officers are a huge moneymaker for cities/states, especially when other revenue sources like sales, property and income taxes are reduced in economic recessions, and officers are given a monthly quota of tickets they must write; either a particular number of tickets, or an explicit dollar value.

You can't deny that traffic tickets are a big source of revenue. The question is, do cities write budgets that depend on a certain amount of money from traffic tickets, and then put pressure on the police to meet that intake? And, does that result in police officers having to write $X worth of tickets per month or face disciplinary action?

Obviously the question is jurisdiction-dependent; one city might have a quota policy while others don't. So, I'll consider any answer that can explain and back up a pattern, or that can show that particular jurisdictions do or don't have quotas.

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was a big media and political debate about that in the Netherlands last year, leading to the government officially stating those quota were no longer allowed, and police chiefs proclaiming they'd ignore the government if they banned the practice. I'm sure you can find newspaper clippings to verify, don't have time to do a comprehensive search right now. –  jwenting May 25 '12 at 5:41
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@jwenting: I'd like to see such an article: A police chief (in a low-corruption country) publicly announcing that they would break a law. –  Oddthinking May 25 '12 at 8:25
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would you consider "performance metrics" as such a quota? there isn't a quota per se, but 20% "worst performing" (meaning giving out least tickets) officers get their bonus suspended. There have been reports of that particular scheme for example in Spain and in Poland. –  vartec May 25 '12 at 14:58
    
@vartec - That would be significant. Yes, I would consider that close enough. –  KeithS May 25 '12 at 15:06
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This would possibly benefit from being specific to a region. "Do police have traffic ticket quotas" could very well have different answers in different jurisdictions. –  Vatine May 26 '12 at 12:24
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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Secret Policies

There are various pieces of evidence some police forces have informal quotas despite official denials and/or official policy suggesting that they don't.

Here are some reports of leaked memos:

Senior police now say the email's directions were "outside of SAPOL's guidelines and policies" and it had been rescinded.

The five-week targets required each officer to:

  • MAKE five arrests and reports.
  • ARREST or report two drink-drivers.
  • MAKE nine traffic contacts, including on-the-spot fines, using mobile breath tests.
  • ISSUE one drug-related fine or diversion (for minor illegal drug possession).

The letter stated that Mr Curie, who has since left ACT Policing and has been engaged in a long-running legal dispute with his former employer, was issuing ''at least 50 traffic infringement notices a month''. The senior constable was concerned that Mr Curie was neglecting other policing duties, and warned him to limit the number of fines he issued to 20 per month. The letter then goes on to claim ''... it is expected that members issue roughly 10 traffic infringement notices per month, time and other priorities permitting.''

A secret tape recording from a Brooklyn police station, obtained by the New York Times, provides compelling evidence that quotas for summonses aren’t just real but are being pushed upon officers by their superiors. Police Captain Alex Perez encourages hunting down seatbelt and mobile phone law transgressors, among other violations, saying he expects five citations issued per week.

All of these are reports that have only been scrutinised by a journalist.

In 2006, an "arbitrator" found that "the New York Police Department violated state labor law by setting traffic summons quotas in a Brooklyn precinct and then penalizing officers who failed to meet them". [1] [2] It is unclear what the standards of evidence are for an arbitrator, but presumably some scrutiny was given to the claim.

Open Policies

In other jurisdictions, the quota may be/have been official policy:

  • Dutch News, 2009

    While the national quota was scrapped from police performance contracts, individual forces may still impose their own.

  • Winnipeg Sun, 2012

    Again the issue has come to light, due to a recent email authored by the Inspector of one of the busiest patrol districts. In the directive, the police officers under his command are exhorted to triple their traffic ticket numbers.

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I would think such quotas would be based on some sort of survey that suggested that officers weren't catching anywhere close to all those breaking the law. Say for instance, it is suggested that there are 5000 intoxicated drivers per month due to survey. Let's say the police force has 100 traffic duty police officers. If they were to require 10 DUI arrests per officer per month, that would only account for 1/5th of the projected number of DUI drivers. However, while quotas like this might have good intention, they often result in over-zealous, and outright wrong, police work. –  crush Mar 14 at 14:18
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Example from Spanish Guardia Civil de Traffico (traffic gendarmerie). Long story short, the officer has been punished with 200 euros of pay reduction because he:

"ha formulado 21 denuncias a la Ley de Seguridad Vial [...] una desviación porcentual del -42,29 % respecto de la media de su Unidad"

translated

"had issued 21 tickets regarding the Road Safety Act [...] a percentage deviation of -42,29 % relative to average in his Unit"

Another example, also Guardia Civil de Traffico (completely different region of Spain though):

una práctica corriente en el destacamento de la Agrupación Civil de Tráfico de Perillo, el único de toda España con 15 agentes a los que se les ha abierto un expediente de preaviso advirtiéndoles de que deben cumplir con su cuota de multas, que a día de hoy es de 28 al mes. La media se sitúa en cuatro casos cada dos o tres meses en cada comunidad autónoma, pero los quince expedientes de aquí fueron abiertos en solo un mes.

translated

a common practice in the detachment of the Traffic Civil Guard of Perillo, the only one in Spain with 15 agents that have been issued formal warning notice, for not meeting their quota of fines, which stands at 28 per month. The average is four cases every two or three months in each region, but here the fifteen warnings were issued in same month.

In other words, this confirms that there are quotas, and it's common practice, and this unit only makes news by sheer number of officer who hadn't made quota at same time.


A case in Poland:

translated

[Officialy] The police did not indicate quotas of tickets, but it is verifying effectiveness of police work. [...] - We are in the 10th place in the province because of your activity - reproached his subordinates at the briefing aspirant Adam Dudko, head of Dept. of Prevention and Traffic in Prudnik precinct. - When it comes to punishment and conclusions, I do not see a policeman, who finishes the service without a minimum of eight tickets, not counting warnings. And even so there is no chance that we'll make up these 9000 [tickets], because it's not f***king possible.

After this has leaked to the press, disciplinary action was taken, not for illegal quotas, but rather for "obscenity during official briefings".

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These are good materials about police departments evaluating on the basis of traffic citation rates, but don't go to "quota" in the sense of an administratively determined target as the officers are being judged on their performance relative they peers. Of course the effect is very similar. –  dmckee May 25 '12 at 17:46
    
@dmckee: well, it the second Guardia Civil case it's a very specific monthly quota. –  vartec May 25 '12 at 20:52
    
Somehow I missed that. Mea culpa. –  dmckee May 25 '12 at 20:53
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