A South Carolina police department may be skirting a state statute that bars law enforcement agencies from implementing ticket quotas after a supervisor authored a memo demanding a "heavy increase" in traffic stops.
The memo, dated May 2, calls on Santee Police Department patrol officers to step up traffic enforcement after the number of tickets and warnings issued dropped significantly since 2017.
Lt. Riley Null noted that the small town's placement along Interstate 95 in Orangeburg County provided a constant flow of traffic and a "great place to enforce the speed law or following too closely."
"If activity is not increased, you will be required to have your body cameras recording during your entire shift to try and determine what activity is consuming your time," he wrote.
The memo was provided anonymously to The Post and Courier. Police Chief Joseph Serrano confirmed the internal document's authenticity, but he denied that the objective of the memo was to serve as a citation quota.
State Rep. Justin Bamberg, who authored the 2016 legislation prohibiting police ticket quotas, disagreed and said he believed the document's directive constituted a violation of the state law banning quotas. The measure said law enforcement agencies "may not require a law enforcement officer to issue a specific amount or meet a quota for the number of citations issued."
"It violates the statute, but it also violates the spirit of the statute," Bamberg said of any outline calling for an increased number of traffic stops.
"When you go and tell someone they're not writing enough tickets ... that's a quota," said Bamberg, D-Bamberg.
Many small towns depend on ticket revenue to meet their budget needs, and Santee is no exception. Last year, revenue from citations made up about 10 percent, or $250,000, of the town's annual budget of $2.4 million, according to Santee Mayor Donnie L. Hilliard.
When reached by The Post and Courier on Wednesday night, Serrano said the directive to increase traffic stops was a tactic meant to deter more serious crimes. The memo called for increased "contacts" with motorists.
If officers aren't stopping cars, Serrano said, they're not getting drugs and guns off the streets.
In the memo, Null noted that the number of traffic tickets issued had tumbled 34 percent between 2017 and last year, dropping from 4,227 to 2,773. So far this year, only 737 citations have been written. The number of warnings issued had also declined, he stated.
"After reviewing the monthly activity reports for the month of April 2019, the trending monthly results are concerning. This is not just a recently monthly issue," Null wrote. "Throughout the course of the year 2018 to current, traffic enforcement has declined significantly."
The memo goes on to list suggestions on how to increase the volume of traffic violations and lists various infractions: speeding, failure to signal, not wearing a seat belt, improper lane use and loud music.
"Do not get tunnel vision," Null stated, calling on officers to "heavily increase" their traffic enforcement activities.
While Null's memo did not specify an exact number of expected citations, it indicates officers were required to increase the number of contacts they have with motorists.
On Thursday, Serrano maintained the memo was not meant to establish a citation quota, but said he would not comment further until he had an opportunity to more closely review the statute.
On Thursday, Hilliard distanced himself from the police department's memo, saying the lieutenant "cannot write policy."
"That memo was written without my knowledge," he said.
Bamberg said the memo's purpose "definitely pushes the boundaries of what may be considered legal or not legal."
"We want (officers) to enforce traffic (laws) for safety," Bamberg said. "We don't want them enforcing traffic (laws) and effectively harassing people because they have to get numbers. Because that's when bad things can happen."
Bamberg, a lawyer, authored the ticket quota ban after representing the family of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man fatally shot as he ran from a white North Charleston police officer in April 2015. The episode began as a traffic stop, and Scott was shot after a struggle with officer Michael Slager, who is now serving a 20-year prison sentence for violating Scott's civil rights.
For lawmakers and law enforcement watchdogs, departmental compliance with the state law can prove difficult considering internal memos are generally not public record. But since the law was enacted in 2016, at least one other department has drawn questions about its adherence to the statute.
In a separate internal memo to Pacolet Police Department officers in Spartanburg County, Chief Terry Logan — who confirmed the memo's authenticity — wrote on Nov. 30, 2018, that "all officers while on duty must have a minimum of four contacts involving traffic stops per shift ... Failure to meet these guidelines could result in disciplinary action."
A quota? "It was never meant to be anything like that," Logan said Thursday.
Logan told The Post and Courier he discontinued the memo directive roughly one week after he wrote it because he was concerned others outside the department would perceive it as implementing a quota and that it would adversely affect staff morale.