Do Traffic Cops Have a Quota?

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This is one of the classic debates of traffic court. Here’s what the law has to say on the issue in California. According to California Vehicle Code Section 41602, “No state or local agency employing peace officer or parking enforcement of this code or any local ordinance adopted pursuant to this code, may establish any policy requiring any peace officer or parking enforcement employees to meet an arrest quota”. California Vehicle Code Section 41600 defines a quota as “any requirement regarding the number of arrests made, or the number of citations issued……or the proportion of those arrests made and citations issued relative to (other officers)”. California Vehicle Code Section 41603 adds that “no state or local agency employing peace officers or parking enforcement employees engaged in the enforcement of this code shall use the number of arrests or citations issued by a peace officer or parking enforcement employees as the sole criterion for promotion, demotion, dismissal, or the earning of any benefit provided by the agency.”

So what does this mean in English? Well for starters it’s clear that you will never hear a cop admit they have a quota. In fact they don’t have a quota because “quota” is defined above and its illegal for them to have one. There is no magic number of tickets that they have to write per month and they can’t be fired or promoted on the numbers alone. But what do they have? They have a duty to uphold the law and making arrests and issuing citations is a big part of their business. If you were a baseball player and your teammate got a 12 million dollar contract for hitting 43 home runs and you got a bus ride to the minors for hitting 7, you would probably try to hit a few more dingers next year. The same rule applies for traffic cops. The best cops have the best production and get rewarded. And if you look carefully at the language of the law above you will see that nothing prohibits the police from keeping stats and rewarding the officers who make the most arrests and write the most citations. When an officer gets promoted or moves from riding shotgun in a cruiser to sitting on a new motorcycle, other officers certainly notice. As long as the department is careful with the rules, no law is broken here. Officer Blue is getting promoted for writing 600 tickets a month AND being on time every day, while Officer White is getting fired for writing only 30 tickets a month AND his failure to attend that meeting last July.

I can tell you from personal experience that traffic officers are well aware of how many citations they issue per month and how many citations other officers have written for the same month. On trial days the officers will usually gather outside the courtroom, in the jury box, or in a back room somewhere. Once they finish giving each other a hard time and exchanging pleasantries they get down to business. The number one topic? “How many tickets did you write this month?” So based on most people’s definition, they do have a quota. But under the California Vehicle Code, they do not.

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