Peace officers should not be revenue generators

The following op-ed was published this weekend in the Deseret News.

It has long been rumored that many police agencies operate under a quota system — one in which officers are required by their superiors to issue a specific number of citations. Whether this is true or not has been difficult to prove because, aside from personal testimony and leaked documents, there is little evidence confirming quotas are used by police departments.

It may be that departments don’t have an official written policy on quotas, either implementing or banning them. Instead, some quotas could exist in untraceable means such as word of mouth.

Many Utahns’ skepticism of police quotas recently received a boost when a former police officer, Eric Moutsos, publicly alleged in a viral Facebook post that his past employer, the Salt Lake City Police Department, regularly relied on quotas as a means of garnering increased funds for their city.

In later conversations, Moutsos disclosed that quotas were repeatedly used as an objective tool for officer evaluation. Officers would be rewarded or punished based on these expected performance metrics. He also indicated that it was virtually impossible to advance in one’s career without increasing your numbers, whether it was citations issued or arrests made. According to Moutsos, officers seeking transfer or promotion to better units within the field of police work are often evaluated based heavily on how many citations and arrests they have on their track record. Police departments often contend that this is a matter of measuring productivity and tracking work.

But Moutsos’ testimony is not the only evidence of quotas being used in Utah. Leaked emails from the Cottonwood Heights Police Department in 2013 showed that prizes were given out as incentives to officers who reached certain quotas.

Additionally, an audit of the Provo Police Department revealed that “officers felt that they were required to meet a quota of different kinds of traffic violations including, but not limited to, parking, equipment and moving violations.” Some officers felt they had been “passed over for promotion and transfer based on the arbitrary requirement of a certain amount of activity in selected patrol categories, most notably traffic enforcement.”

Former state Rep. Carl Wimmer, previously a police officer for both West Valley and South Jordan, admitted he “had to write three tickets every day. That was a quota, and they exist.”

It’s been a decade since the Legislature explored the issue. Neil Hansen, a former Utah House member, sought to ban police quotas in 2008 and again in 2009. Both bills failed, in part due to opposition from police executives across the state. However, the Utah State Fraternal Order of Police has consistently supported banning quotas.

Many police executives have claimed that they do not impose quotas on their officers — but if that were true, then why would some oppose legislation banning them? Others claim quotas should not be banned because they are a good tool for evaluating an officer’s performance. But if quotas are as helpful and good as they claim, then why do police departments often try to hide any evidence that they are using quotas?

The arguments against banning quotas simply don’t add up. And although some law enforcement executives may be vocal in the fight against banning quotas, many police officers are silent in their support of prohibiting this practice, fearing professional retribution for speaking up.

Most peace officers enter into a career in law enforcement because of a desire to keep their community safe. They signed up to be a peace officer in the truest sense of the word — not a revenue generating robot whose purpose is to boost the city budget.

The Legislature should prohibit quotas in Utah, just as multiple other states have done such as Missouri, Tennessee, Texas and Florida. Tickets will still continue to be given and fines will still be paid. And rather than being stuck chasing drivers down for actions that have not endangered anyone, officers will be freed up to focus on actual threats to public safety.

In a world without quotas, officers would be given the opportunity to fully perform their jobs through proactive policing where they can use their discretion to prioritize public safety without the threat of being punished for not writing a high number of tickets each day. Utahns would better be able to trust that the police officers are patrolling the streets for the purpose of safety, not monetary gain.