The Herald/Times’ discovery of a Florida Highway Patrol ticket quota ordered by a major high-ranking official has rocked the agency and caused political problems with members of the Legislature.
“It’s really, really, really unfortunate,” said Terry Rhodes, executive director of the patrol’s parent agency, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, who issued a memo last Thursday emphasizing that ticket quotas are illegal.
Rhodes said she and Col. Gene Spaulding, FHP’s director, will talk about whether to take action against Maj. Mark Welch, who issued a July 28 order to troopers in an eight-county region in North Florida to write “two citations each hour” in part to justify a 5 percent pay raise from Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature. In an email, Welch said the troopers’ average of 1.3 tickets per hour was not good enough.
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“There should be some type of discipline,” said FHP union leader William Smith, president of the patrol’s chapter of the Florida PBA. “We will be watching to see what they do.”
Not only do ticket quotas violate Florida law, but ticketed motorists could have a new legal defense if they challenge a ticket in court.
The state also is examining practices across the state in which officers are offered rewards for writing tickets. Troopers in Miami-Dade get extra weekends off based on “performance,” and Rhodes says that practice is wrong and also must end. Miami-Dade troopers cite a memo they say was issued by a captain at FHP who praised the work of several officers for the month of July.
Without using the word quota, the memo listed numbers for citations (tickets) and contacts (vehicles stopped) and wrote: “Sergeants, please get with these members and schedule their weekend pass.”
“That practice has been stopped,” Rhodes told the Herald/Times. “That would not be something the command staff or myself would support.”
Kevin Brown, vice president of the union and an officer in Orlando, said officers across the state have long been expected to reach specific numerical targets for citations. “Everybody in the agency has been subject to it,” Brown said. “I don’t want our reputation to be that we’re out for a quota system or just to punish people. That’s not what we should be about.” Brown, who spent Saturday in an FHP training session, said Welch’s email was a much talked-about subject.
That practice has been stopped. That would not be something the command staff or myself would support.
Terry Rhodes, executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
Rhodes praised the work of FHP members and expressed concern that Welch’s quota could reflect negatively on the agency’s professionalism and on staff morale. FHP has long struggled with high turnover because the starting pay for troopers, which is set by state lawmakers, is far below what county sheriffs pay deputies. Nearly 1,000 troopers have quit the patrol since 2010.