No more quotas? Bill to stop rating NJ cops by arrest, ticket stats
TRENTON — A bill recently endorsed by a Senate committee that would prevent cops from facing demotions or discipline because they didn’t arrest more people or issue more tickets isn’t listed for a vote at the Thursday Senate session.
The proposal, currently S1322, dates to 2014 but hasn’t gotten any further than an endorsement by a single committee – in 2016, and then again last Friday.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said tickets and punishment are a needed part of the system but that quotas damage the reputation of the police in the eyes of the public.
“Our goal should be the greatest amount of compliance and the greatest amount of safety with the least amount of punishment,” O’Scanlon said. “That should be our goal. Ticket quotas pitting cops against other cops really warps that goal.”
Rob Nixon, a lobbyist for the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association, said ticket quotas already aren’t allowed by state law but have crept back through police evaluations that hinge on that data.
“Quotas quite honestly do exist, and police officers are being held with the threat of discipline if they do not write enough tickets,” Nixon said.
Nixon said a PBA survey conducted recently found municipal officials going to police and saying that revenue is down and that unless officers write more tickets, they will have less training and equipment options. The PBA local in Morristown recently sued the police department alleging such a system.
“Tickets are not municipal revenue,” Nixon said. “If a local government is expecting their police officers to back up their budgets by writing more and more tickets, that’s offensive to the public, and it’s improper.”
“If you’re expecting police officers to balance the budgets of municipalities, that is a serious, serious problem,” he said.
Nixon said some departments hang “shame boards” in locker rooms that rank officers by who has written the most and least tickets. He said the survey found examples in which officers are required to average at least 2.2 arrests a month and write 15 or 20 tickets a month or can’t go to specialized training.
He said a prosecutor blocked one egregious example in which officers were competing for meal breaks and preferred vacation time.
Paul Penna, a legislative analyst for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said current law appropriately prevents arrest and ticket data from being the sole consideration in police employee performance evaluations.
“Those provisions insure against the imposition of quota requirements on law enforcement,” Penna said. “This legislation represents an excessive and inappropriate intrusion into a purely local personnel management matter.”
The bill was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, where state Sen. Joe Cryan, D-Union, said targeted enforcement efforts including ticket-writing are nevertheless important – particularly now during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are repeated speeding complaints because traffic is down,” Cryan said. “Those that are on the roads somehow think it’s an airplane runway and not something to be adhered to.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.