If you drive through Hopkinton, RI, keep this in mind: The officers you see are each required to write 20 traffic tickets per month, “more or less,” under a new Police Department policy.
Excuses, like being busy doing something else, or having taken vacation days, “are not acceptable,” Lt. Daniel C. Baruti said in a March 3 internal e-mail that spells out the policy.
Drivers who think they have been ticketed unfairly often suspect that they were cited because of a police quota rather than their driving. The police almost universally deny that quotas exist.
The e-mail says, in bold, italic type, “Do not forward this e-mail.”
Baruti, Police Chief John S. Scuncio and Town Manager William A. DiLibero acknowledged Hopkinton’s policy after The Journal obtained a copy of the e-mail.
However, they denied that it amounts to a ticket quota. Instead, the lieutenant described the numerical goal as a “target.” He said he was surprised that the term “quota” has popped up. “I didn’t even think of the word ‘quota’ ” until a sergeant brought it up, he said.
Baruti and the other local officials said that the policy is a management tool intended to make the police more productive. Although it has drawn some criticism, Baruti said, the policy is legal and that they have no intention of abandoning it.
The practical effect, Baruti said, “is that somebody who offended and might have gotten off, won’t get off and will get a ticket after all.”
The e-mail said that officers who don’t meet the quota — an average of one ticket for every shift worked — will have to fill out daily activity sheets to account for what they have done during their shifts. Baruti acknowledged that officers would rather not have to do that.
Baruti’s e-mail said that the department’s “production level” has fallen and that the town manager and some members of the Town Council “are very dissatisfied with our numbers.” He said he thinks a decline in the department’s ticket production reflects a lack of motivation.
Baruti wrote that he plans to send the officers’ statistics to the Town Council, so members can “see for themselves who is producing and who is not.” DiLibero said the council hasn’t acted on the issue, which he considers an administrative matter.
The e-mail also looks ahead, saying, “The plan is to focus on traffic tickets to start. We will look at arrests and incidents later.” Baruti said that doesn’t mean setting targets for arrests.
If the policy works, it could mean a substantial increase in the number of tickets. In March, according to figures from Scuncio, officers wrote a total of 150 tickets. He said March was a typical month. If the 10 patrolmen each wrote 20 tickets per month, that output would rise by a third, to 200.
Baruti also suggested that the two sergeants who command the officers “consider putting up your own numbers. I’m not asking for 20, but some number that demonstrates participation on your part.”
Officials gave differing descriptions of the policy’s purpose.
Baruti said it isn’t aimed at individual officers. DiLibero said, similarly, that he and some council members were concerned about a “lack of activity” by the police in general.
Scuncio, on the other hand, said the policy is aimed at a single officer who does practically no work. One example of his lack of effort, the chief said, is that month after month, the officer writes no tickets at all. The chief said the officer’s inactivity “really creates problems” because new officers “see this guy doing nothing.” He didn’t identify the officer, saying he didn’t want to single the officer out.
Since the department usually has two officers on patrol at a time, an inactive officer would severely reduce the enforcement level.
Chief Scuncio said the new policy hasn’t had the desired effect. “He still hasn’t written any tickets,” the chief said. “Nothing’s changed.”
He said he’s reluctant to try to discipline the officer because of the difficulty under the legal and contractual protections provided to Rhode Island police.
Capt. David A. Ricciarelli, assistant director of the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy, said he knows of no similar policy in other departments. He gave several reasons why ticket quotas should be avoided. They are “publicly distasteful,” he said, and give the public a negative impression when the police depend on the public’s help to enforce the law.
Being pulled over is the most frequent way the public interacts with police officers, he said, and it’s a chance to build a positive relationship.
Ricciarelli said the academy doesn’t teach officers anything about quotas and isn’t likely to.
Having a ticket quota, Ricciarelli said, “just doesn’t make sense.”
A quota system differs from the police strategy of directed patrolling, which focuses attention on crime hot spots.
Ricciarelli said it’s appropriate to have officers focus on a problem area and have them enforce the traffic laws vigorously. “That would have an immediate effect of reducing speeding in that area,” he said, making the roads safer. What’s different is setting a numerical goal.
The Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union has already protested Hopkinton’s ticket quota, according to Executive Director Steven Brown.
In a letter to Scuncio, Brown said that a quota system “is rightly condemned by the motoring public.” He predicted it would backfire and undermine police effectiveness.
“A quota policy can only generate disrespect for, and cynicism about, law enforcement,” Brown said, and it suggests that “police enforcement is more about making money” than enforcing the law.
Brown said Scuncio should scrap the policy immediately.
Although some state legislatures have outlawed ticket quotas, Brown said that the Hopkinton policy may be legal in Rhode Island. He said the ACLU will try to persuade the General Assembly to outlaw the practice.
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