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Don’t incentivize traffic tickets

When it comes to law enforcement, there’s a fine line between a goal and a quota.

A recent email from the North Dakota Highway Patrol Southeast Detachment captain praised troopers for various traffic safety enforcement awards before listing “2015 goal numbers ... for traffic troopers.”

Fargo troopers were given a goal of 14 driving under the influence arrests, 72 right-of-way violation warnings or citations, 60 seatbelt violation warnings or citations, 240 speed enforcement warnings and citations and two drug arrests.

In an interview with reporter Andrew Sheeler, Col. Michael Gerhart was adamant that the numbers provided were goals and not quotas.

“I don’t support quotas, and there won’t be quotas in the future,” Gerhart said

However, there is a fine line between a goal and a quota, and some may cry foul that a law enforcement traffic ticket goal acts as a de facto quota.

The situation gets murkier given that a new proposal would tie pay raises to a number of metrics, including performance in making traffic stops.

In addition to a cost-of-living pay raise, troopers currently receive a standard annual 3 percent merit pay raise unless they have been placed on an improvement plan.

In an attempt to avoid giving a blanket 3 percent merit pay raise across the board, NDHP is considering a different approach. The new proposal would tie traffic troopers’ annual 2 percent to 4 percent merit pay raise to metrics including number of traffic stops, community outreach, teaching and training.

High performers would receive a 4 percent increase. Those who meet goals would receive 3 percent. Those who are below goals would receive 2 percent and could be considered for an improvement plan.

Tying pay raises to traffic stops effectively turns a goal into a quota. It incentivizes traffic tickets. A trooper may already be meeting the goals, but would now be incentivized to make more traffic stops in order to attain a higher pay raise.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol does a fine job protecting our state. Our roadways can be dangerous with icy conditions in winter and during boom times like that being experienced in western North Dakota.

It is the job of police officers to enforce speed limits and keep traffic at a safe speed. It is their job to respond to vehicle crashes and assist in trying to save lives. It is their job to stop drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol and get them off the road. It is their job to try to intercept drug trafficking in our state.

The job of law enforcement officers is not an easy one, and we thank them for all they do to protect the public.

The law is the law. If someone is speeding, it is a police officer’s prerogative to pull over that person.

However, tying merit pay raises to number of traffic stops effectively turns a goal into a quota and damages relations between law enforcement and the public.

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