San Diego police officers, under investigation for allegedly padding their activity reports with scores of traffic citations that don’t exist, have complained of intense pressure to write a quota of at least 20 tickets per day, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
At least seven traffic officers are under internal review and administrators have recommended firing at least one, police officials said Tuesday.
After conducting an extensive audit, which included examining thousands of traffic tickets by hand, police supervisors discovered a significant disparity between tickets written and the numbers recorded by officers in their daily log books over three months.
In one of the cases under investigation, a traffic officer recorded 170 tickets over three months that were never written. Entering false data onto daily police logs is akin to filling out a false police report, a misdemeanor offense.
Some of the officers, none of whom have been identified, apparently have told their superiors that they were ordered to write at least 20 tickets per day although the pressure to write 30 to 40 tickets daily was not uncommon, according to sources close to the investigation.
Capt. Nancy Goodrich, head of the traffic division, confirmed Tuesday that her office was conducting a “routine audit” of traffic citations and had recommended firing one officer.
“This is a case of supervisors reviewing their subordinates’ work,” she said. “There has been no discipline administered so far. This is being blown way out of proportion.”
But sources familiar with the investigation said the audit was anything but routine.
Police supervisors inspected the daily activity logs submitted by each traffic officer, making note of the identification numbers recorded for each citation. The numbers were entered into a computer and when many did not show up, supervisors searched by hand for every citation written during those three months. In some cases, the officers had recorded the numbers of tickets that colleagues had written, the sources said.
The traffic division writes nearly 10,000 citations each month.
The investigation, which began “several months ago,” could take an additional 30 days, Assistant Chief Dave Worden said.
Most the discrepancies show up on the tickets written by the elite 46-person motor patrol, those officers assigned to enforce traffic laws by motorcycle, sources said.
The motorcycle officers, or “motors,” as they are called, are coveted jobs because they include higher pay, better hours and more freedom.
The officers are given “hazardous duty” pay for having to ride motorcycles and engage in high-speed chases, which can earn them up to $10,000 extra a year. They do not often work after dark and “get to flow with the traffic problems,” according to traffic Lt. Bob Jones, rather than being restricted to one patrol area.
“We have many more applicants than positions in motors,” Jones said. “It’s very desirable. You get a distinct and sharp-appearing uniform. You get special training through a rigorous program that is physically and mentally grueling. It’s one of our outstanding units.”
Police officials deny that quotas exist for arrests, traffic tickets or any other type of enforcement while admitting that they take special note of any “downward fluctuations” in citations issued by an individual officer.
“It’s just like someone employed to make widgets in the private sector,” Jones said. “If you’re making 1,000 a day and you slip to 100 a day, you’d best have an explanation. That’s something that would be reflected in an evaluation.”
Quotas, or any requirements to issue arrests or citations, are a violation of state law. No state or local law enforcement agency is permitted to use arrests or citations “as a sole criterion for promotion, demotion, dismissal or the earning of any benefit provided by the agency,” according to state law, but they can be used in the overall evaluation of an officer’s performance.
One detective said officers are required to make 20 “contacts” over a 10-hour shift, which can be anything from an arrest to a citation to an investigation. But the requirement is not in writing and is never referred to as a quota, the detective said.
Although failure to meet such goals is never included in evaluations, supervisors make constant mention of the fact and use it in determining promotions and distributing desirable assignments, he said.
“Traffic officers are expected to enforce traffic laws,” said Assistant Chief Ken Fortier. “It’s safe to say an officer on a motorcycle is expected to write traffic tickets. If that’s a quota, it’s a quota.”
Former California Highway Patrolman Steve De Bry, who now runs a traffic school near Mission Bay, said quotas certainly existed when he worked at the agency.
“At the CHP, they renamed it and called it goals,” he said. “Speaking for the CHP when I worked there, it was ‘Five a day kept sarge away.’ About 100 a month was our goal.”