(11/21/2008)
State Troopers say quotas hamper efficiency

Chief says no numbers are set by headquarters, but getting 100 contacts per month is very easy

By Justin D. Anderson
Daily Mail Capitol Reporter
dailymail.com

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Some state troopers believe their evaluations are influenced by the number of traffic tickets they write and complain that the practice could have adverse effects on public safety.

A recent survey conducted by the state Legislative Auditor's Office found that a number of troopers - 23 percent - said they operated under an unofficial quota of "contacts" with the public.

The survey responses indicate that for each traffic ticket or warning issued, the trooper gets one point towards the quota.

The same goes with a felony arrest. The trooper gets one point, even though writing a traffic ticket takes considerably less time and effort than bringing a felony charge.

Some troopers say that while there was nothing in writing, the pervasive understanding was that they were to make at least 100 contacts every month.

Some said if they didn't reach that number, they were written up, and that could jeopardize any future promotion.

Some troopers were critical of the alleged practice.

"We are a numbers-oriented organization," one trooper commented in the survey. "We are encouraged to produce big numbers (and) supervisors make that trooper a 'shining star' and will compete that trooper with other troopers.

"I believe that this encourages poor quality of arrests and citations, and leaves no room for officer discretion and empathy towards the public that we serve."

Another trooper remarked, "Troopers who write a lot of traffic (tickets) are looked upon as hard workers, even if they slough off other calls."

One trooper said, "Ticket writers who have large amounts of activity via citations drive better vehicles, are treated better, etc."

The auditor's report was critical of the alleged points system, saying if such a system was to be used for evaluation, a speeding ticket shouldn't be worth as much as a felony arrest.

Officials in rural areas of the state, specifically in Pleasants, Wirt and Wetzel counties, complained last year that the alleged quota was detracting from local public protection, according to the report.

The Wetzel official told the auditor the troopers at the Hundred detachment spent most of their time working in the Wheeling area, where there was more potential for arrests and citations. The official told the auditor the practice "doesn't make sense if they are supposed to protect Wetzel County."

The auditor noted that traffic warnings were at a three-year high in 2006 - mounting to 110,000 - but dropped to below 60,000 when county officials began complaining about the lack of State Police coverage.

Colonel David Lemmon, State Police superintendent, said there is no quota set by headquarters. But that doesn't mean some detachment leaders don't set goals for the troopers in the field, he said.

"As a detachment commander, you watch and see what's going on," Lemmon said. "Each detachment commander should know what the demands are."

Lemmon said every time a trooper comes in contact with a citizen, whether it's to help change a tire or write a speeding ticket, that counts.

Lemmon said if there were a so-called "100-contact rule" in effect, it wouldn't be hard to meet each month. Lemmon said if a trooper just patrolled the roads, they could round up 100 contacts in 20 days.

Lemmon said if troopers had complaints that not meeting what they allege is a quota cost them a promotion, there's a grievance process. Lemmon wasn't aware of any such grievances.

As far as the quotas taking away from other areas of public safety, Lemmon said troopers' time is divided about equally between road patrol work and work on criminal investigations.

Some states have specifically banned these kinds of quotas, including California and Maryland. Bills were introduced in the West Virginia Legislature in 1999 and 2000 to ban the quotas, but the bills went nowhere.

Maryland in 2006 banned the use of quotas to determine promotions. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Republican delegate from Maryland's 36th District, sponsored the legislation.

A lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police, Smigiel said many police officials denied that quotas existed. That was until he produced documented proof from one jurisdiction that ordered a certain number of arrests and citations in each category, he said.

"I think it's not good practice from the viewpoint of the citizens as well as the departments," Smigiel said Wednesday in a telephone interview with the Daily Mail. "It causes friction with the officers. They've got enough problems with the bad guys, let alone their supervisors. And no citizens I know think that quotas are a good idea."

Smigiel said he believes the quotas can make some officers overzealous to arrest people or issue citations and can cloud their discretion. He also believes quotas take time away from work on other investigations.

"I'd rather have a police officer who's free to work on what they think is important," Smigiel said.

Smigiel said there are better ways to gauge an officer's performance than setting an arbitrary quota. Some districts just don't see as much action as others. He suggested a better option might be setting some benchmarks for officers based on the average number of arrests and citations in their areas.

Contact writer Justin D. Anderson at jus...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843.

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