Do Police Really Have Speeding Quotas?

The short answer is yes and no-how’s that for an answer? Seriously, while many states have banned police from writing tickets to meet a certain quota, there are ways found to get around the bans. Some city and state police honor the ban. But quotas are used partly to evaluate an officer’s performance. So if it’s called something else, then in effect, quotas remain.

Why do some places have police traffic ticket quotas?

A police officer pulls a solo driver over for driving in the carpool lane.
A police officer pulls a driver over | Don Bartletti/The LA Times

Some state police departments with the quota ban have argued it prevents them from “establishing standards for officer performance and motivating officers to meet those standards.” But in some states like Illinois, those in favor of quotas argue that points for “contact” is a better method of judging performance. 

Contact means things like traffic stops, warnings, and arrests. The fear is that police actions to meet quotas take away their discretion, which is replaced by meeting arbitrary numbers. And that doesn’t really fulfill their main job, which is to protect the public. 

What’s a “police station average?”

Traffic tickets
Corona Police Department motor officer writes a citation to a motorist | Getty

In some states, there is something called the “station average.” In effect, that’s the same as a quota. Florida has banned ticket quotas for state law enforcement agencies like its Highway Patrol. But in 2009, a Florida Highway Patrolman was allegedly fired because he wasn’t writing enough tickets, according to Traffic School Online

Back in 2021, a 13-year veteran of the Richardson, Texas Police Department,  Officer Kayla Walker, accused her department of violating state law by enforcing traffic ticket quotas. With city budgets tightening, cities have found that ticket violations can bolster the coffers. Eventually, budgets began reflecting what cities expected from those quotas. So it was baked in and expected. When bans were placed in certain states, police needed to find a way to continue issuing more tickets

Why are many in favor of police traffic ticket quota bans?

traffic tickets
Woman talking to a Traffic Enforcement Officer | Getty

One downside to increased ticket writing is time in court. If a ticket is challenged, officers are expected to appear in court to defend their decision. That means more time in court and less time patrolling the streets. The head of the Atlanta Police Union sent an email to its members shaming this practice in 2013. 

But when your job is on the line, and you know that a certain ticket cap is necessary, that’s when it can be bad for drivers. Some police have been known to make a traffic stop to try and provoke a reason to write up the driver. Especially when the driver has done nothing wrong. 

How do some police get around the bans?

traffic tickets
Even the rich and famous can get traffic tickets | Getty

So manipulating a broken law is one of the ways things go off the rails. Writing duplicate tickets, and even sending tickets to deceased people, are other ways officers generate the necessary quota. Then there are incentives beyond job performance.

In some towns in the U.S., prizes are awarded to those officers with the most tickets generated in a month or quarter. Bonuses are another incentive. And conversely, those officers with fewer tickets to their names can receive poor reviews or bad shift schedules according to How Stuff Works

But there are eyes on the police to look at instances of higher ticket issuances. So while it is still being done, police have to be more creative in how they bolster their ticket numbers. 

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