The TV news team obtained an email sent from the police union chief Ken Allen to his members in the Atlanta Police Department explaining that future raises will be funded through ticket revenue based on the most recent city budget.
It may be the first time a major city overtly spelled out the connection between traffic ticket revenue and police salary and raises, and it raises questions that the southern city is instituting an official quota system.
"The mayor has designated traffic court/ticket revenue for future pay increases ... (This is) the first time ever that a revenue stream has been designated to salaries," Allen told officers in the email, according to Channel 2. "Future pay increases are in our hands. We need only enforce traffic violations as we are now, but increase our attendance in court to prevent cases being dismissed."
A representative for the mayor's office told Channel 2 that the city is simply trying to improve how the police department engages in traffic court, "especially regarding operations and the collections process." But, the spokesman told Channel 2, "There is no push to increase revenues through the writing of additional tickets."
An Atlanta Police Department representative told Channel 2 the department has not issued any official directive for officers to write more tickets, nor informed them that ticket writing is directly tied to their compensation.
But it appears to be semantics. If police know their raises are tied to ticket revenue, they will not only be inclined to do a better job of showing up and defending the tickets they write in traffic court, they are also incentivized to write more tickets.
As city's cope with tightening budgets, "unofficial" ticket writing quotas have been uncovered in the last year, with line officers, many of whom object to the practice, caught in the middle.
In Bethel Heights, Ark., last month, Officer Timothy Brasuell recorded his police chief pushing him to manufacture reasons to make more traffic stops and get his ticket numbers up. Brasuell, reported NBC TV affiliate KNWA, played the recording for the county prosecutor and mayor who dismissed the officer's concerns "as an internal matter."
In Staten Island, NY, three police officers were charged in 2012 with writing phony tickets to meet unofficial quotas they claimed were forced on them by superiors. Officer Paul Pizzuto, who was dismissed and lost his pension, reported The Daily News, made the claim that bosses threatened to transfer him if he didn't keep up a quota of 150 tickets per month. Pizzuto was caught submitting bogus summonses of people he had previously ticketed, and even people who were dead.
In Auburn, Ala., earlier this year, a police officer was fired for allegedly going against a ticket quota policy dictated by superiors to raise extra revenue for the city. Officer Justin Hanners charged that his commanding officer told him and his fellow officers they had to write at least 100 tickets per month, according to The Opelika-Auburn News. Cops who wrote the most tickets, Hanners charged in court papers, were rewarded with gift certificates for steak dinners and other goodies. Those who fell short, he charged, were threatened with job loss or mandatory over-time on holidays and other undesirable days.
In Novi, Mich., Officer Michael Corbett, a 25-year veteran of the police force, is suing the department, charging he was forced into early retirement for pushing back on a policy of ticket quotas for cops, according to The Oakland Press.
Police officers in East Orange, N.J., have complained to a city council member that they are being harassed by superiors to fill ticket quotas. Councilwoman Alicia Holman earlier this year called for an investigation into what she says is the harassment of citizens and the intimidation of officers. "Our officers are being threatened, disciplined, or brought up on charges for neglect of duty," she said in April, according to NJ.com. An investigation is ongoing.
Civil liberty experts are siding with cops going against their department practices or unofficial policies as traffic tickets are meant to be a deterrent to illegal behavior, not a designated source of revenue for city or police budgets.
Arkansas police officer Brasuell told KNWA, "The message that he [his police chief] was giving me was do whatever it takes to get the tickets even if you have to make somebody do something wrong."
"Every time I hear it, I get nauseous."