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OPINION: Traffic ticket quotes should be outlawed

OPINION: Traffic ticket quotes should be outlawed

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An association representing some 800 Virginia State Police officers is trying to get legislators to ban ticket quotas after a supervising sergeant in Williamsburg said in an email that they should be able to write at least five traffic tickets per day: “4, 5 or 10 tickets for a week of work is unacceptable,” he stated, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which first reported on the March email.

A spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police denied the existence of ticket quotas, calling them “benchmarks” used to “help supervision determine a trooper’s progress towards meeting performance expectations.”

Sean McGowan, executive director of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association, says that using the number of tickets a state trooper writes to evaluate their on-the-job performance is “antiquated” and “out of date.”

But whatever you want to call them — benchmarks or quotas — they’re even worse than that.

Ticket quotas are not just annoying to motorists who have to pay a fine for minor infractions they might not even know about, such as a burned-out tail light. They are a source of unnecessary conflict between state police officers and the public. Troopers who are trying to meet their quotas are more likely to target older cars driven by poorer people who can’t afford new ones. And every time somebody gets pulled over creates another opportunity for things to go seriously awry.

Traffic laws must be enforced, and the state police should not shy away from doing so. Many drivers slow down just seeing blue lights on the side of the road, knowing that they are being watched.

But ticket quotas create a conflict of interest. When law enforcement is used to raise revenue for the state (and the purpose of such quotas is surely that), the state police forfeit any claim to be acting strictly on behalf of public safety.

Such “taxation by citation,” as the Institute for Justice calls it, inevitably leads to more anger and frustration on the part of the public and less trust in the police.

If ticket writing is solely based on clear infractions of the law instead of an imposed quota, the number written by state troopers will vary widely from day to day and month to month, depending on the behavior of the drivers they observe.

But the goal must always be to get that number ultimately down to zero — with all motorists on the road driving safely and obeying state law. And that goal is simply incompatible with giving troopers a strong personal incentive to pull people over and issue citations, even when they would otherwise not be inclined to do so.

State Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, a former police officer and detective in Prince William County, is reportedly drafting legislation that would outlaw ticket quotas in the commonwealth. They are already illegal in California, Florida, New York and Texas, and state lawmakers should add Virginia to the list.

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