A bill that would bar law enforcement agencies from imposing traffic ticket quotas on its officers has hit a nerve among police chiefs statewide.
Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, said he decided to sponsor HB255 after hearing from his constituents, who were unhappy with the idea that Ogden police officers were told to write eight tickets a day.
"That comes to about one ticket an hour," Hansen told members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee on Thursday. "There's more to police work than just writing a ticket."
Before the committee forwarded the bill to the House on a split 5-4 vote, Hansen questioned the motive of police chiefs who opposed his bill. "If you don't have (a quota), what's the problem? If there are, then there is a problem," he said.
Hansen said his concern is that quotas take officers away from other duties, such as patrolling communities, in order to generate revenue for cities.
But while several police chiefs said they never have, and never will, impose traffic ticket quotas on their officers, they were adamant in their opposition to the bill.
Orem Police Chief Michael Larsen, who is also president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said in his 29-year career he has never been made to write a certain number of traffic tickets each day, nor has he made his officers do so.
"Traffic enforcement is for the safety of our community," Larsen told lawmakers, adding he and other police chiefs are concerned the bill would prohibit them from making their officers write any traffic citations.
Larsen said residents in communities have appointed police chiefs to make such decisions "the way we see fit."
Some committee members said they struggled to see how HB255 would bar officers from using their discretion or enforcing the law.
Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake, said everyone is concerned about traffic safety but she didn't see how imposing a certain number of tickets on an officer is any different than simply telling officers to issue tickets when they see the law being violated.
Larsen said he is not aware of any police chief in the state who tells officers to write a certain number of tickets each day. "I hear rumors," Larsen said.
It was such a rumor that sparked controversy in Ogden a few months ago when Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey and Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner, now a state senator, suspended an officer after his wife was seen driving a moving van with a sign that read "Welcome to Ogden City. Home of Godfrey's ticket quota."
The sign was in reaction to complaints from the Ogden Police Benefit Association, Ogden firefighters, families and residents over an officer evaluation scale that included the number of tickets an officer issues.
Assistant Ogden Police Chief Wayne Tarwater explained to lawmakers that his city has a "performance-based standard" that has 18 criteria, which include at least three citations per week. "That's nowhere near eight tickets a day," Tarwater said.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said his wife was involved in an accident in Layton in which she was not found to be speeding or following too close. Ray said the officer told his wife he had no choice but to write her a citation because of a department quota requirement.
Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe responded to Ray, saying officers tend to use the quota excuse as a way to shield themselves from blame or anger from motorists but denied such a quota exists at his department.