RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new state law taking effect this summer bans police and sheriff’s departments from requiring a certain number of tickets and arrests from officers.
Retired police officer Sean McGowan said the pressure to write more tickets is something he experienced first hand in a career spanning more than two decades.
“It’s not fair. It’s not a proper way to evaluate officers so, again, we want to get away from that,” McGowan said. “Officers should be given discretion allowing them to make those decisions without that number hanging over their head that they’re supposed to achieve to get an exemplary evaluation.”
As the executive director of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association, which represents nearly 9,000 law enforcement professionals across the state, McGowan backed a bipartisan bill that prohibits both formal and informal quotas. Those figures also can’t be used as “the sole criteria for evaluating an officer’s job performance.”
“Every jurisdiction in the state will deny they have a quota. We have evidence that that’s not the case,” McGowan said.
Last year, we obtained a memo sent by a Virginia State Police supervisor in the Williamsburg area. It read, in part, “4, 5 or 10 tickets for a week of work is unacceptable. There is no reason you should not be writing 5 tickets minimum on a typical day (that’s one every two hours). If you are on free patrol, you should be writing more if you want to remain on free patrol.”
VSP Spokesperson Corinne Geller declined to make someone available for an interview on the new legislation. She said they don’t have a quota and the law won’t impact their policies.
Dana Schrad, a spokesperson for the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said quotas aren’t common anymore, at least not in the way the public thinks about them.
“They don’t necessarily require a certain number of tickets to be written. They will look at whether or not an officer’s behavior has changed,” Schrad said.
If an officer decides to dispute a policy, the law will be difficult to enforce because it doesn’t set any penalties for violations.
McGowan said they’ll be tracking complaints to see if the law, which was a compromise, needs to be strengthened.
Schrad said setting a penalty would be overreach by the General Assembly.
“It’s just not necessary that there be a penalty. This bill though does send a message that quotas should not be tolerated in Virginia and we agree with that,” Schrad said.
Schrad said, in the past, highway safety grants have requested statistics about traffic stops and ticketing. She couldn’t say if that’s still part of the application process but she raised concerns about possible conflicts with the new law.
Jessica Cowardin, a spokesperson for the Virginia DMV, responded in a statement.
“While, as good stewards of taxpayer dollars, we monitor and measure grants to ensure they are used appropriately in accordance with NHTSA guidelines, we do not require nor encourage grant-funded police departments to issue a prescribed number of traffic citations. Our goal is to drive traffic fatalities toward zero. That’s the true measure of our success,” Cowardin said.
Schrad said law enforcement should be tracking contacts with the public, not tickets or arrests. It appears some are already doing so.
Last year, we obtained a seperate memorandum sent out by a supervisor with the Alexandria Police Department to a Traffic Safety Section officer.
The letter outlined a “minimum standard of production” for an officer. It detailed the number of citations written by the officer in question per shift, and then went on to say that the officer would “be placed under a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) until such time as your monthly production numbers rise to the level of being minimally acceptable.”
“In order to justify a 10-hour work shift, all members of the TSS determined a minimum of eight (8) traffic stops and two (2) hours of enforcement at traffic compliant locations were the minimally acceptable production. As I have discussed with you on multiple occasions, these production numbers are not a ‘quota’ for the unit,” the letter said.
In an email on Friday, Marcel Bassett, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department, said the memo is still in effect. Bassett said an officer “would never be placed on any Improvement Plan based on citations written or lack thereof.”
“What it doesn’t explain is a traffic stop does not equal a ticket, a traffic stop can be a warning, as well as an educational and/or community engagement opportunity. This method empowers the officer to make the best decision in the moment,” Bassett said. “When evaluating officers at APD we take into consideration the many facets of policing and recognize that tickets should never be the judge of a good police officer, so while we do have standards, those standards don’t reflect ticket writing but emphasis interacting with the community we serve.”
In general, Schrad said police are writing less tickets in Virginia under a new law that limits what offenses officers can stop a driver for. She said revenue for regional training academies is suffering as a result. She said the fund from ticket-writing has been cut in half, from roughly one million to $500,000.
“The General Assembly is going to have to address the fact that, if they want our officers writing fewer tickets, they’re going to have to find another stream of income,” Schrad said.