Police union says ticket quota system was ongoing
The union representing Rome's police officers has released information showing that the city was forced to end a ticket quota system referenced in the department's reform plan following a grievance by officers in February 2019 and subsequent arbitration ruling following a hearing in January 2020.
The ticket quota system was approved by the administration and stopped only when the union took the case to arbitration, the union said in its announcement on Thursday.
The Philip S. McDonald Police Benevolent Association said it won the arbitration following a hearing in January 2020, and the City of Rome was ordered to cease the ticket quota system. They said the system was in place for at least five years before the union stepped in.
"While our members are aware that traffic enforcement is a major function of law enforcement and take that function very seriously, no one sought out a career in law enforcement to be a revenue generator for a municipality," said Det. Jeffrey Lanigan, president of the union, in a release.
"Officers are given the right of discretion and shouldn't work in fear that they will be disciplined if they give someone a warning instead of a ticket."
According to the 2020 and 2021 municipal budgets on the city's website, www.romenewyork.com, the city has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in "Court Fees (Police Fees)" over the past several years.
In 2017, the city generated $287,441 from such fees, according to the online budget information. This revenue line grew to $297,152 in 2018 and to $327,392 in 2019. In the 2020 budget, adopted before the arbitration ruling, the city had projected revenues of $290,000 for this budget line. As of Sept. 30, 2020, the revenue on that line was listed at $60,404 with a year-end estimate of $98,000 projected. The 2021 budget anticipates revenue of $213,000 in Court Fees (Police Fees) for 2021 and $300,000 for 2022.
According to the first draft of the police department's reform plan, the union filed a grievance with the Public Employment Relations Board on Feb. 14, 2019 claiming that the administration was using a ticket quota system, which requires officers to write a certain number of tickets per shift or face disciplinary action. Such a system is not allowed under state labor laws.
The draft plan notes that an arbitration hearing was held on Jan. 23, 2020, and the arbitrator ruled that "even though no formal quota system exists, some watch commanders did have an expectation for a certain number of tickets to be written, and, therefore, an informal quota did exist."
In order to remedy this system, the reform plan notes that "the city and police administrations have taken action through direct collaborations with its watch commanders to insure that this practice ceased immediately and will not occur again."
According to Lanigan, Police Chief Kevin C. Beach "implied that the quota system was attributable to some rogue watch commanders. It was not. The ticket quota system at the Rome Police Department was enforced initially by a newly promoted Captain of Patrol under the watchful eye of the Rome Police Administration."
Lanigan said the system began by tabulating monthly ticketing statistics per officer, then eventually changed to tracking weekly and daily tickets. The administration also tracked speed radar tickets, which "were the tickets that generated the highest revenue for the city," Lanigan stated.
"When officers didn't reach the numbers desired by the Patrol Captain, they were verbally addressed for their actions," Lanigan stated. "This then evolved into officers receiving formal documentation in their personnel files for not reaching said ticket/radar numbers."
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