It’s an age-old rumor, and “everyone know it’s true.” In fact, I was once told by a former police office clerk that ticket quotas were always the unspoken rule, the unofficial “off-the-record” policy. Chiefs and administrators demand officers write a certain number of tickets every month, thereby ensuring a steady stream of revenue for the local government, including the department. It’s not about justice, it’s about revenue.
The demand is off the record, because it’s illegal and unethical to predetermine how many tickets will be written. It’s off the record, so even though “everyone knows it’s true,” no one could ever prove it.
That is, unless some officer on the inside actually put his job on the line and recorded his chief actually making such a demand.
That’s what just happened.
Reason.com reports the story of Auburn, Alabama officer Justin Hanners, “who claims he and other cops were given directives to hassle, ticket, or arrest specific numbers of residents per shift.”
Hanners balked, “I got into law enforcement to serve and protect, not be a bully.”
But Hanners did not just make the claim, he’s got the proof. According to the report, “Justin recorded conversations between his sergeant, Sergeant Neal, and the other officers.” The recordings revealed the plot clearly, capturing Sergeant Neal saying,
Officers will have 100 contacts per month, minimum. Forty of those may be warnings for traffic, and 60 will be divided between traffic citations, non-traffic citations, field interviews, and custodial arrests.
Consider this for a moment: here you have a man who has taken an oath to uphold the law, and yet is using the system as a means of legalized extortion. Here you have a guy in charge of a team of law enforcement officers who is demanding that there must be a certain number of arrests and imprisonments every month. People, this is not just tickets, which is bad enough, but this is mandatory arrest quotas.
Indeed, at one point, Neal is caught on tape motivating his now-henchmen by saying, “It’s Saturday night. Let’s go out there and make some contacts, put some a**es in jail.”
Hanners confirms that his sergeant instructed him and his partner to arrest people that, after investigation, they determined had done nothing wrong. In one instance, the sergeant was insistent, and even though Hanners refused, another officer complied. The innocent person ended up in jail for the night.
Neal concluded his quota instructions with a threat to officers who failed: “Do not be one of those who does not get 100.”
Hanners notes that Neal made good on his threats. Officers who failed the quota would get mandatory overtime, or even get written up. On the other hand, officers who achieved the highest numbers in this twisted system of injustice were given gift cards for steak dinners.
Radley Balko, author Rise of the Warrior Cop, opined to ReasonTV on the matter: “You’re way beyond encouraging productivity at this point. Now you’re encouraging police officers to act unlawfully.”
Hanners also claims that the administration monitored the type of tickets each officer wrote to see how much revenue they brought. If too many “low fine” tickets were written, the officer would be instructed to write more “meat tickets”—those with more substantial fines.
After too much resistance to such policies, Hanners was fired. But he had the evidence. Now that the story has broken and the recordings made public, the police chief involved has promptly retired—for medical reasons, of course.
Perturbed by the corruption, Hanners contacted the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (SSPBA), a “professional association, funded by membership dues and citizen contributions” which “provides legal, disciplinary and other representation to officers who are members.” As ReasonTV notes, Hanners learned that he’s not alone: “he found out that his grievances are actually pretty common.”
According to Hanners, the SSPBA’s attitude was one of “here we go with this again.” Apparently, quota-driven complaints from honest officers are actually a regular thing across America. It’s just hard to prove, and it’s hard to prove that any given officer got fired for that reason and not some trumped-up technical infraction.
And herein lies the great problem. “Everybody knows it’s true,” but few people if any can prove it. Maybe Hanners will get some relief, but will this solve the larger problem of so-easily-hidden corruption that plagues local governments across the country?
Hanners commented, “This is a problem in more places than Auburn, and I think once the people know that they can hold their public officials accountable, it’ll change.”
But the key to change is public pressure and enforced transparency. Hanners notes that officers have tried for years to change the system from the inside, but they either get pushed out (like himself) or they leave in frustration. But this, he insightfully sees, has an adverse effect on law enforcement long term: it means that all the conscientious, honest, “good” guys are forced out of law enforcement, and all that are left are guys with lower ethical standards who are willing to play the corrupted game—and the bullies who like to show how bad they are with a badge. The only way to straighten such a problem is to have concentrated public pressure, transparency, and exposure.
Of course, the whole concept of a police force writing citations and fines based upon civil/statue law is highly questionable from a biblical-common law perspective. Traffic violations are not a tort, no one is harmed in person or property, and thus there is no just cause for any transfer of funds. The statute-fine system enables the type of corruption seen here: a predatory class of officers, agents, administrators, and judges whose personal prosperity requires a quota of such fines to be written. The whole system needs to be rethought, and this must begin with conscientious Christians who understand the biblical legal system.
This is exactly the type of local government cleanup that needs to be done, as mentioned in my Restoring America One County at a Time.