Off the record, LAPD officers have been telling us for months that their supervisors expect them to write a certain number of traffic tickets per day -- about 18 for traffic cops, and two for patrol cops (on top of their regular duties).
Which is why last week's lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, filed by 10 cops from the West Traffic Bureau who allege "their supervisors retaliated against them for resisting traffic-ticket quotas," according to the Los Angeles Times, doesn't surprise us one bit. Especially after motorcycle cops Howard Chan and David Benioff, also of the West Traffic Bureau, won a similar lawsuit in April that drained the city of $2 million; what a golden opportunity to cash in on law-enforcement corruption in an economic slump!
But these are just civil lawsuits. What should be surprising...
... is that the District or City Attorney's Office haven't stepped with the big guns. If a quota system really is in place, as Chan and Benioff claimed in their winning suit, it begs investigation on a civic level.
Their $2 million reward was in response to allegations that they had, according to the Times, "been punished with bogus performance reviews, threats of reassignment and other forms of harassment" after objecting to the quota system -- but their victory rode on the finding that there had, in fact, been a quota to object to. (And ticket quotas violate California law.)
It's true that civil suits require less supporting evidence than civic ones. But how many millions of taxpayer dollars are cops going to walk away with before the city, or the department, launches a good hard investigation into West Traffic Bureau standards?
Nancy Lauer served as West Traffic Bureau Chief up until February of this year. Brenda Crump is her replacement. We've contacted both for comment.
The 10 plaintiffs are Philip Carr, Timothy Dacus, Kevin Cotter, Peter Landelius, Kevin Ree, Kevin Riley, Josh Sewell, Vincent Stroway, James Wallace and Jason Zapatka. Their accusations, via the Times:
Among their allegations is that LAPD supervisors punished them for refusing to follow orders to implement traffic ticket quotas. They also allege that the amount of traffic tickets they produced was the basis for an illegal comparison among fellow West Traffic Bureau motor cops.
If it exists, an LAPD quota system -- alongside the fact that cops are no longer allowed to skip court just because they don't remember the details surrounding a ticket -- is a double thorn in the side of L.A. drivers during rough economic times.
A few different cops we talked to for "Citywide LAPD Ticket Shakedown" told us the pressure to write more tickets forces them to override their best judgment on whether motorists are endangering themselves or the public, and just write them up them anyway -- because they can't afford not to.
This often involves "cherry-picking"; for example, hiding out near an oft-rolled stop sign, then issuing a ticket to every driver who rolls through it.
District Attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons says, via email: "If there is any investigation at all of what appears to be an administrative matter within the Los Angeles Police Department, it would be done by the department's Internal Affairs staff. You need to check with the LAPD and City Attorney. We have nothing to do with this. Sorry."
Great. As we discovered in "Shakedown," the City Attorney's Office reaps a good portion of the profits from traffic tickets that go through the L.A. County Superior Court.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
True, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich was the one who served justice in Chan and Benioff's civil lawsuit -- but he has yet to address the alleged quota system beyond personal damages.
As for the LAPD: Media relations brushes off our ticket-quota questions by saying "Chief Beck is unavailable and we are unable to comment on any pending litigation." (Beck famously denied any evidence of an LAPD quota in April.)
LAPD Internal Affairs says they've never heard of either ticket-quota lawsuit.