Why ticket quotas are a bad idea

Posted Sept. 18, 2009, at 7:40 p.m.

In a story in this newspaper in early August, Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia said this about his decision to crack down on parking violators in the city:

“Is it going to generate more revenue? Yes, but that’s not why we’re doing it.”

In a memo to his department a week earlier, he wrote, “It nonetheless remains necessary to increase the parking revenue and address the limited enforcement of on-street parking.”

In that memo, which was leaked to the Bangor Daily News earlier this week, he announced the enactment of a new quota system demanding that patrol officers write a minimum of 10 parking tickets per month. He has since reduced the quota to five tickets a month.

Gastia had not intended that internal memo to get into the hands of the public or the media, and when I spoke with him Friday he was clearly not happy that it did. Neither apparently was Bangor City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer, who said that he knew nothing of the department’s quota system and didn’t necessarily like it, but was more concerned that a member or members of the Police Department leaked the memo to the media.

If there is nothing just a bit smelly about this issue, then why is there such concern about whether the public is aware of it?

I can give you a couple of reasons.

Police seeking to increase revenue is always a bit disconcerting, and police officers who have quotas are, as well.

It has something to do with the power they wield. You know. The whole badge and gun thing along with the power to take one’s freedom away.

The parking ticket quota is not the first that Gastia has implemented since he took over as chief upon the retirement of Don Winslow.

A year or so ago he issued another quota that patrol officers make at least 20 traffic stops per month, he said.

Quotas and cops have been a long-debated issue not just in this country, but around the globe. Some states have outlawed such quotas. Maine has not.

Gastia defends his quotas by saying that police officers need to be held accountable like any other working bee. The officers in the Bangor department had gotten lax about writing parking tickets and stopping drivers for traffic violations, he said. It had become a bad habit to ignore such violations, he said. Past administrations had apparently let the officers slide.

The quota system was intended to break the habit.

What happens if an officer doesn’t meet his or her quota? I asked him.

Apparently that is none of my — or your — business. It’s an internal matter, he said.

We all know quotas are routinely used in other professions. But police officers are not selling used cars or newspaper ads. They are writing tickets and making arrests. It’s not hard to see the slippery slope here.

How serious is the threat to their job if they don’t make their quotas? Would it compel a young, ambitious officer to write a ticket or pull someone over without reason as the end of the month neared?

Gastia, of course, has great faith in his officers not to do such a thing. Yet he admits that he tried to encourage those same officers to step up traffic and parking enforcement voluntarily and they refused. The only way to compel them to do so was to implement mandated quotas, he said.

I’m not sure exactly what that says about Gastia’s faith in his department. If he doesn’t believe the officers will step up to their responsibility, then what are we to think?

There certainly are parking issues that need to be addressed in Bangor, and getting aggressive against those who run red lights and speed through residential neighborhoods is an admirable goal that I personally encourage.

Holding his officers accountable for doing their jobs is Gastia’s responsibility. Holding Gastia accountable for doing his job, which includes maintaining the public’s confidence in the department, is the responsibility of the City Council and the citizens of Bangor.

reneeordway@gmail.com

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