A ban on traffic ticket quotas has bipartisan support, but is it necessary?

A ban on traffic ticket quotas is a proposal that state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle can get behind, but it’s unclear if legislation on the issue solves an existing problem. 

House Bill 2179, introduced by Rep. Alex Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, would prohibit law enforcement agencies in Arizona from requiring their traffic safety officers to issue a certain number of traffic citations in a given amount of time.  

The bill is a copy of one approved by the state Legislature with broad bipartisan support in 2015 but that was vetoed by Republican then-Gov. Doug Ducey. 

Co-sponsors of the new bill include several of Kolodin’s colleagues in the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus, like Reps. Cory McGarr, R-Tucson, and Justin Heap, R-Mesa. But his measure also has the backing of Rep. Analise Ortiz, a progressive Democrat from Phoenix. 

“I think people from any political party could agree that having unnecessary traffic complaint quotas does not make it safer,” Ortiz told the Arizona Mirror.

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Ducey said in his veto explanation in 2015 that he did not believe that any law enforcement entities in Arizona had implemented a quota. He added that he understood the bill’s intent, but worried that a quota ban would prevent leaders in law enforcement from “objectively gauging performance in their departments.”

Kolodin skirted around a question on whether he felt Ducey made a mistake in vetoing the bill nearly a decade ago. 

“One of the things that we’ve been trying to work on in the legislature is finding areas where there might be mutual agreement between left and right, and one of those areas is certainly a bill that got through on bipartisan supermajorities previously,” Kolodin said of his decision to resurrect the bill. 

He added that conservatives have been interested in banning quotas for a while now and that each officer should have the discretion to decide who deserves to be stopped or ticketed. 

Ortiz said she believes that reducing unnecessary traffic stops for people within her community — stops that could escalate and lead to potential harm to those community members — is important. 

The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating the Phoenix Police Department since 2021 for its use of force practices and allegations of discriminatory policing. 

“This should not be a partisan issue,” Ortiz said, adding that when voters elected a Democratic governor and a Republican majority in the legislature, “they sent a clear message that they want Republicans and Democrats to work together. Folks are tired of politicians fighting, and when Representative Kolodin came to me with this bill, I thought it was important to support it, because it could make a difference for my community.”

As of 2022, at least 26 states in the U.S. had implemented ticket quota bans. 

“It’s something that makes rank-and-file police officers happy because we don’t need the state government micromanaging how many traffic stops they are making,” Kolodin said. “It’s something that just seems like a commonsense thing to do.”

Back in 2015, several Arizona police organizations supported the quota ban, including the Arizona Police Association. But the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police was against the bill, saying that no department in the state had a quota and that implementing a ban could stop supervisors from promoting an officer based on having more experience than another candidate in writing tickets. 

The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police did not answer questions about its position on this year’s bill. Joe Clure, the executive director of the Arizona Police Association, told the Mirror that his organization does not plan to take a stance on the bill this time. 

The APA does not support ticket quotas, Clure said, but he also hasn’t recently heard officers complain about pressure to hand out more tickets, which he said was sometimes an issue before he retired from police patrol work in 2016. 

However, even then, departments typically didn’t admit to having quotas, but officers within those departments might get pressure from their sergeants to keep up with the team’s average of tickets per day or month. 

“Officers should write tickets when they are warranted and deserved and when they have an impact on traffic safety,” Clure said, adding that he’s a firm believer in “educational contact” with drivers in place of handing out unnecessary tickets, especially to people who are already struggling financially. 

“An officer’s worth should not be determined by the amount of tickets they write in a day,” he said. 

Clure said he believes that the extreme shortage in law enforcement officers in Arizona, as well as the rest of the nation, has mostly put a stop to any pressure to write a certain number of traffic tickets, simply because departments have been struggling to hire enough officers to respond to more serious crimes. The Phoenix Police Department reported in the fall that it was seeing an uptick in recruitment, but as of October, it still had 560 vacancies

In 2015, proponents of the bill pointed to the Tucson Police Department, which had recently changed its policy from requiring patrol officers to write one ticket per day, to requiring one traffic stop per day. 

Tucson Police Department spokesman Sgt. Richard Gradillas told the Mirror that the department no longer has a traffic ticket or traffic stop quota. 

“Today, TPD Patrol Officers make traffic stops when they see dangerous driving behavior,” Gradillas wrote in an email. “With traffic fatalities on the rise, traffic safety is a priority. Officers are expected to stop the dangerous driver behavior and educate the motorist. Whether a citation gets issued or not is at the officer’s discretion.”

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