Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Are WSP troopers filling ticket quotas?

SEATTLE – Washington State Patrol encourages its troopers to issue a specific amount of traffic citations, but the policy has caused some conflict.

This is a hot-button issue for anyone who has gotten a ticket and for many troopers in the state patrol.

Two years ago, the chief of the agency told troopers to write more tickets and give fewer warnings.

Is that a quota?

Some troopers say it is.

It's the blinding flash of blue and red lights in your rearview mirror that makes your heart. You've just received one of the hundreds of thousands of tickets the Washington State Patrol gives out every year.

State troopers wrote 50,000 more tickets in 2006 than they did the year before.

Assistant Chief Brian Ursino says they were asked to be less tolerant with motorists.

"We know as a matter of factual basis that giving somebody a traffic infraction alters their behavior for a longer period of time than if you give them a verbal warning, so we did ask our troopers to be a little less tolerant," he said.

And they obeyed. Ursino, who runs field operations, says it's the right thing to do.

"This is about reducing collisions, preventing injuries and preventing fatality collisions," he said.

But along with the ticket mandate came what was called "minimum performance standards." According to an internal memo, a sergeant in Bellevue told officers he supervised: "No matter how many cars you stop, the goal... is 80 percent enforcement" (tickets)."

Some officers were asked to "average 25 violators per shift." In Seattle, troopers were assigned goals for citing speeders, seatbelt and HOV violators, and aggressive drivers.

"Before they could take leave or a holiday credit or a day off, they are asked: 'What do your statistics look like? How many cars you got for a month?' That ain't right," said Tommie Pillow, state trooper and union president.

He says these goals are simply a quota which takes away the officers' discretion.

"If you told the average person my expectation is 100 cars, well what is that?" he said. "It's an expectation, it's a goal, it's a quota, what's the difference?"

Ursino said: "There isn't any quotas but there is accountability. I'm accountable to the chief, the chief is accountable to the governor and we are all accountable to the people."

The state patrol says it hasn't disciplined anyone who did not meet expectations, but those who exceed them have been rewarded. A memo issued in March shows those troopers who pull over at least 1,200 drivers and cite more than 55 percent of them earn commendations, plaques or coins.

"There are some agencies out there that say WSP stands for Washington Stat Patrol," Pillow said.

As far as the claim that writing more tickets makes the roads safer, in 2004, 43 percent of drivers who were stopped were ticketed. In 2005, 47 percent were cited. And after expectations were raised in 2006, that number grew to 63 percent.

But according to the state Department of Transportation, the fatal accident rate statewide is almost 10 percent higher than it was in 2004.

Pillow maintains that catching speeders should only be part of the job.

JESSE JONES: "You don't want those troopers out there to be ticket machines?"


JESSE JONES: "Do you think this is happening now?"

PILLOW: "Yes."

Both sides agree all the tickets written are justifiable. But since KING 5 started the investigation, we have learned that union leaders and Chief John Batiste have met to discuss this topic. It's clearly an issue that is not going to go away anytime soon.

With all these tickets comes a lot more money. Does the state patrol benefit directly?

Yes and no. The state patrol keeps only 5 percent of the ticket revenue, 57 percent goes to the local jurisdiction where the ticket was given, the rest is sent to the Public Safety Education Account that funds a number of safety, educational and recreational program.

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