A bill advancing at the state Legislature would prohibit law enforcement agencies from establishing quotas for traffic citations or determining officers’ ranks or assignments based on the number of tickets issued.
And that would be fine with Levi Bolton, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, an umbrella organization of groups representing law enforcement and correctional officers. He said one of the biggest problems with quotas is that they bring the fairness of law enforcement into question when a warning could suffice.
“Those are the kinds of things that bring about trust and fairness … that make people want to report crimes to police, to talk about sensitive things with police officers,” Bolton told the Senate Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee, which unanimously endorsed HB 2410 on Feb. 25.
But John Thomas, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, told the committee that no law enforcement agency in the state currently has quotas. He said that the bill was drafted after a Tucson jurisdiction established a quota of one traffic citation a day, a policy that has since been eliminated.
“What you’re trying to do with the bill is you’re trying to take the administration of officers and put it into state law, when it’s something that’s left up to, at this stage, the local jurisdictions,” he said.
The bill, which passed through the House with little opposition, was headed to the Senate floor by way of the Rules Committee.
Its author, Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, didn’t attend the committee meeting and didn’t respond to a phone message seeking comment. When he addressed a House committee hearing the bill, Stevens said he would let others speak to its merits.
Tucson Police Department Sgt. Jason Winski, who registered support on behalf of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Arizona, said the quota system in his city disrupted the department’s relationship with citizens.
“What we heard from our community is that when they have the officer or deputy come up to their window, they want to feel like they have a fair shot at a warning or avoiding a ticket,” he said.
Thomas, representing the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, gave a hypothetical example of needing to fill an open traffic officer position with one of two applicants, one who has made no traffic stops in the past year and another who has made several. If put into law, this bill would would prohibit a police department from giving the position to the second officer based on his previous performance.
“In discussions with the police departments, I do know that’s one of the factors they take into consideration, and if you put this into law there is a concern because there are some officers who just don’t pull people over,” he said. “They are still officers, but they may not be put on special task forces, they may not be put in as a motor officer, and that is very definitely one of the things that they would look at.”
Some members of the committee said it’s important to consider the reasons why some officers might not issue tickets.
“You might have some officers in some jurisdictions who might think that maybe it’s better public policy to not write a ticket because they want that trust factor,” said Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, the committee’s chairman.
Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Cashion, said he supports both parts of the bill, adding that issuing warnings rather than traffic citations helps to build a bridge between law enforcement and the public.
“I don’t think that you should be looking at promoting an officer based on how many tickets they write,” Contreras said. “I would think that an officer that’s giving out warnings versus tickets is gaining the respect of some individuals.”
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, a primary sponsor of the bill, said he supports changing the language on promotions and assignments because it could allow underperforming officers to hide.
Kavanagh said that a low number of citations is a fair indicator of poor performance by an officer. However, he said he also understands the fear that law enforcement officials could penalize officers based on their own views of how many traffic tickets they should be writing.
“The key is to craft language that prohibits a quota but by the same token doesn’t stop a department from taking into account an officer’s activity level, not just in summonses but arrests and everything else, relative to similarly assigned officers,” he said.