A Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Police Department shoulder patch and badge. Credit: Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — The police patrolmen’s union is again rebooting a grievance claiming city officers are working under a quota mandate for writing traffic tickets.

Police officials have denied the allegation and during a March 21 Police Commission meeting, Chief Robert Merner cited an increased number of traffic citations and said it’s a result of “self-initiated” police work.

The grievance was filed with the New Hampshire Public Employees Labor Relations Board, which granted the patrolmen’s union March 15 request “to return this case to the active docket and schedule a pre-hearing conference and subsequent hearing” in April. In response, the PELRB scheduled an April 20 pre-hearing and a May 4 adjudicatory hearing at the PELRB’s Concord office.

In December, lawyers for the city and police union filed a joint motion saying they were actively engaged in negotiations and asked for 90 days to try to resolve the dispute. The PELRB granted the continuation to March 15 in an order that said if neither side filed a further motion, the case would be dismissed. The same thing occurred in October, according to PELRB records.

Merner has reminded the grievance predates his tenure and previously said he’s confident it will be resolved. He said half the feedback he receives from the public are calls for traffic enforcement and that between 2015 and 2017, the number of traffic citations issued by city officers quadrupled.

The union made the allegation about quotas through an unfair labor practice complaint. The officers allege they endorsed a new contract in September 2016 that includes a provision mandating they receive performance evaluations. According to the grievance, union president Aaron Stacy learned a month after the contract was signed that “the administration of the Portsmouth Police Department was contemplating the adoption of a quota system to establish a predetermined requirement for the number of summons and other documented activity by members of the bargaining unit.”

The union alleges former police chief David Mara told Stacy “no quota system was being employed by the Portsmouth Police Department and that none was being proposed.” Mara previously told the Portsmouth Herald there were no quotas and he was opposed to them. He said his officers were instructed that if they’re not busy answering calls, they should be enforcing traffic laws and giving tickets to drivers who break them.

The patrolmen allege two patrol officers received their first-ever performance evaluations “that were negatively impacted on the allegation that the officers had not met certain established benchmarks or quotas expected by the management of the Police Department.” The union claims police management had thus established a “de facto quota system,” which must be bargained through its union.

City labor lawyer Thomas Closson denied the city “established or is enforcing any kind of a quota system” and countered, “The city keeps track of many specific aspects of its police officers’ daily performance” including the number of traffic stops completed, summonses issued and property checks performed.

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