Tucson Police chief speaks on new policy: Ticket quota or proact - Tucson News Now

Tucson Police chief speaks on new policy: Ticket quota or proactive policing?

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Some call it a quota, but the top cop in Tucson, Chief Roberto Villasenor, calls it proactive policing.

Tonight, we are hearing from the Tucson Police Officers Association about a requirement officers now face, to write one traffic citation a day. According to a memo dated July 24th, 2014 Chief Villasenor said that citation could not be a written warning or an equipment repair citation.

"The officers in the department are disappointed about this development. We recognize traffic enforcement is important, but by the same token by facing mandate, putting it on paper it takes away an officer's discretion on when they're going to write a citation or not," said Sgt. Jason Winsky, the Government Affairs Director for the Tucson Police Officers Association.

To find out more about this policing policy, Tucson News Now filled out a Freedom of Information request to get a copy of the memo the Chief had written to the entire department.

This is the second memo written by the Chief about traffic citations. The first one written in January, 2013 required officers to write one citation a day. The Chief said he had to clarify and emphasize "traffic citation" in his second memo last month, as 80% of the citations officers were writing ended up being written warnings and equipment violations.

Villasenor said personal and property damage caused by accidents was the number one issue in the city, even more so than violent crimes. The purpose of his memo was to stress the importance of enforcing traffic laws and having safer streets in the community.

We checked with Marana Police and Oro Valley Police. Spokespersons for both departments said while they had no written mandates, officers were encouraged to keep an eye out for erratic drivers.

We asked Chief Villasenor what made him put this policy in writing, and make it a mandate.

"I wanted to emphasize the importance of it. Accidents have dropped since we started this in January 2013, calls for service have dropped dramatically and arrests have gone up dramatically."

The Chief showed us charts, graphs, and statistics showing a lower number of collisions, faster response times, and a lower number of calls for service in general.

Villasenor said with less officers than he's had since 2009, the fact that they're making more arrests is a testament to the fact that pro-active policing works.

In the memo, Villasenor states: "Through appropriate traffic and field contacts, officers have the ability to deter, detect, interrupt, and investigate unsafe driving behavior and criminal acts. This, in turn, lowered collision and crime rates, a reduction in calls for service, and a safer community."

Villasenor calls this "self-initiated activity" by police officers "a cornerstone of pro-active policing".

Sgt. Winsky said despite the statistics, morale was at an all time low in the department.

"It is a morale issue for us. We feel morale is sinking to an all time low level with everything that is going on. This is one more example of that."

Winsky said the Tucson Police department had lost dozens of officers to retirement and to other agencies in the last two years. He pointed out that at least 18 police officers applied for two positions that opened up in the neighboring Marana Police Department.

Chief Villasenor agreed morale was not the best in his department.

"I do think morale is bad, but I don't think they can put that all on this ticket a day issue. There's a variety of issues from compensation, to equipment and computer issues, things that are sometimes out of my control. I think what I would say to those officers is remember why you became a police officer, what your responsibility is, and goal is, to serve the community and stop worrying about this one ticket a day requirement," said Villasenor.

Mark Spear, a Tucson resident said he was not happy to hear officers were mandated to write one traffic citation a day.

"I think it's a quota, and I think it's revenue ahead of safety. This is revenue enforcement, not safety enforcement," said Spear.

We asked Chief Villasenor, if revenue was a motivating factor behind this policing policy.

"Actually no. I have said that was not the intent of the program,we'ree trying to address driving behaviors. There may be an increase in revenue but that is not the motivation," said Villasenor.

We asked him if he called this a "quota".

"I think people can interpret this as a quota if they want to. I consider it a performance goal," said Villasenor.

Winsky said officers out in the field were feeling a wedge between them and the public due to this policy.

"We are hearing a lot of complaints from citizens at traffic stops, they feel an officer's discretion is taken away on whether or not they get a ticket," said Winsky.

Villasenor said this policy came about after the department noticed officers were writing one citation a week, sometimes the average was less than that according to their statistics.

"if you were to ask anyone on the street, how many tickets do you think a cop writes every week? You'd probably get answers closer to 5-10 a day. What our numbers were showing is.. We were writing closer to one a week. Unfortunately some officers will say the chief is making me do this. To be honest, that's somewhat cowardice. What they should say is you really need to improve your driving behavior," said Villasenor.

Here are some excerpts from the Chief's memo to the department:

"Background:

The mandatory minimum standard of a citation and a field interview began on January 18, 2013. The performance standard was put in place after an analysis of traffic citations revealed a marked decrease in the number of self-initiated citations during the preceding year. Since it's inception, the program, and the allowable variations of officer-initiated activity that counted toward the minimum standard has evolved."

"What has remained unchanged is the knowledge that proactive, self-initiated activity is a hallmark of effective police work, and can have significant, positive effects on crime rates."

"Ultimately I am directing some minor modifications to the way that self-initiated activity will be counted and reported in an effort to improve administrative efficiencies. There will also be some minor changes that will increase enforcement discretion at the individual officer level. What has not changed, however, are my expectations that officers engage in self-initiated traffic enforcement stops, field interviews, and arrests, and that patrol supervisors appropriately lead their personnel in achieving these basic law enforcement objectives."

"Expectations: Officers will be expected to average any combination of two self-initiated contacts from the following list, per day worked each month, with the caveat that an average of one per day must be an enforcement action (i.e. not a written warning, FI, or Equipment Repair citation.) The reason for requiring an average of one enforcement action per day is that an examination of the activity over the past several months showed that an inordinately large proportion of written warnings and equipment related citations were being written."

The memo stressed that officers were encouraged to make more than the required amount of self-initiated contacts "as the call load permits".

The chief said to date no officer had been disciplined for not following through on this policy, and he hoped he didn't have to go there, they planned to use it as a performance goal.

We checked with the city of Tucson to find out how much revenue the city had generated in the fiscal year 2014 from civil traffic violations. City spokeswoman Lane Mandle said the unaudited amount was a little more than $876,955. We will stay on top of this story and check to see how much traffic revenue the city collects in the fiscal year 2015, a year after this mandatory one traffic citation a day policy has been in effect.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved. 

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