End quotas for traffic tickets

Ticket quotas should have no place in police departments. They set arbitrary requirements for officers, and signal the public that police are out to get them.

An S.C. House bill introduced by Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, would stop the unpopular practice — and would protect whistle-blowers who file complaints against agencies where quotas are required.

The problem is that, even if Rep. Bamberg’s bill becomes law, some police departments have unwritten rules about quotas: Officers are expected to give out three citations — or four, or 10 — during each shift. And if they don’t, their superior officers take note.

So even in some departments where there are no formal quotas and no officer is written up for failing to write enough citations, officers are pressured to do just that — write citations.

In some cases, those citations are believed to be one way to deter crime. Stop people for little crimes before they move on to big ones.

In some cases, tickets are an important source of income for the department — especially in small towns. One carefully placed speed trap can go a long way to filling funding gaps.

But clearly officers should be stopping drivers because they have done something wrong, not for profit. And by setting a minimum number of citations, police can feel pressured to make stops that they don’t think are necessary.

Lawyers for former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager have said he was trying to fulfill his department-mandated quota of three traffic stops every shift for minor violations when he pulled over Walter Scott last year. Mr. Scott fled, and Mr. Slager shot him in the back, killing him. He was dismissed from the NCPD and charged with murder.

Fortunately, Rep. Bamberg believes that his bill has broad support. It won the support of the House Judiciary Committee. Both chambers of the General Assembly at large should pass the bill, and Gov. Nikki Haley should sign it. That would send a signal to the public that the police are pulling them over for the right reasons, not to fill money-raising quotas.

Then police departments should pledge to their constituents that they will abide by the spirit of the new law.

And if an officer is pressured by unwritten quotas, he should file a complaint and do his part to stop a misguided tactic that undermines respect for law enforcement.