Sunrise officials say their police do not have traffic quotas.
But a written reprimand given to a Sunrise officer for not making enough traffic stops this year indicates otherwise.
Sunrise road patrol officers are expected to make at least three traffic stops a day, according to a complaint form on the officer filed in May.
That means the city’s 84 road patrol officers have to make at least 45,864 stops a year, about half the city’s population.
With Sunrise home to Sawgrass Mills mall, a top tourist destination in South Florida, folks from all over are at risk of being pulled over and given a ticket. What it could cost you, on average: $200.
“The public thinks it’s a gotcha game and they are going to get you if they have to meet that quota,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
Officers who meet the quota — referred to as “shift standards” by department brass — are in line for promotions, special assignments and raises, say union officials. Those who don’t risk a written reprimand, they say.
The Sunrise police union does not condone quotas of any kind, said Roger Krege, union president.
The officers making the traffic stops are “just following orders,” Krege said. Officers need to be able to make decisions without “external influences” from supervisors who demand a set number of stops per day.
Chief John Brooks, who joined the department in June 2007, denied having a quota.
“I don’t have a ticket quota and I don’t have an arrest quota,” Brooks said. “It’s not illegal, but it’s unethical.”
Capt. Robert Voss, who oversees the department’s road patrol officers, says supervisors need some way to measure performance. The number of daily traffic stops an officer makes helps gauge productivity, Voss said.
“Those are guidelines for them to follow,” Voss said. “We have to have a way to measure what an officer is doing out there. The officers are making a lot of money. We want to make sure they’re working.”
The standards apply only to the officers assigned to road patrol, Voss said, not to the department’s entire 172-member force.
Mayor Roger Wishner characterized the three-stops-a-day rule as community policing, where officers focus on certain neighborhoods to help reduce traffic accidents.
“I don’t support a quota system, but I do want our officers out there enforcing traffic laws,” Wishner said.
Deputy Mayor Sheila Alu also backs Brooks’ rule, in effect since July 2008.
“I think he’s trying to keep the officers accountable,” Alu said. “He wants to make sure the officers are doing their jobs and performing.”
From October 2008 through September 2009, Sunrise collected $431,200 in traffic fines and court costs, city records show. Sunrise has collected $352,000 in ticket money from October 2009 through early August.
In addition to the traffic stops, Sunrise officers are required to make three “Field Interrogation Card” reports each month — or 3,024 every year.
Officers use the FIC reports to document suspicious activity — and to prove they are working, Sunrise police officials say.
One officer has Voss wondering just what he could be doing his entire 11.5-hour shift.
Bruce Charlton, a 21-year veteran who works the day shift, has been written up three times this year for failing to meet shift standards. In February, he had one traffic stop and no FI cards. In March, he had no traffic stops and one FI card. In April, he made seven traffic stops and wrote one FIC report.
“I have personally given verbal warnings to Officer Charlton and have placed notes and copies of his stats in his shift file regarding his lack of productivity,” Sgt. Mark Hudson wrote in a May 17 complaint on the officer. “By failing to heed repeated supervisor warnings, Officer Charlton remains in violation of Department Policy and Procedure.”
Technically, Charlton was written up for disobeying an order. The order: To make more traffic stops and write more FI Cards.
Charlton, 41, said this in his defense: “We have over 200 different responsibilities to perform during our shift and it’s not fair to the public’s safety or officers’ safety to pigeonhole our performance solely on traffic stops and FI Cards. The other officers have to neglect their other duties for fear of discipline if they don’t meet the shift standards.”
Traffic quotas may not be illegal in Florida, but they are frowned on, said Bob Dekle, a law professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“The problem you get into with quotas, every stop is open to public criticism,” he said. “The accusation is, ‘You did it because you had a quota to make, not because the person was doing something wrong.’ That’s why quotas are a bad idea.”
On the other hand, Dekle said he understands the dilemma for supervisors who want to make sure the rank and file are not sleeping on the job.
“It shouldn’t be too hard for officers to make three traffic stops a day and three field interrogations a month,” Dekle said. “If the officer is not doing that, you have to wonder what he is doing.”
Officials with the Broward Sheriff’s Office say the agency does not have quotas. The Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood police departments say the same. Fort Lauderdale does require its officers to meet “performance standards” to measure productivity, Sgt. Frank Sousa said. Officers are evaluated on the quantity of their work, but are not required to “write five tickets a day or make three arrests,” Sousa said. Nor are they required to conduct a set number of traffic stops or “Field Interrogation Cards,” he said.
The Sun Sentinel reviewed 287 FI Cards written by Sunrise officers between June 19 and July 19. Subjects were questioned for many reasons — loitering, walking home, driving around “aimlessly,” sitting in a parked car at a shopping center after hours.
Will Carrasco, a Plantation resident questioned by Sunrise police in June, was not surprised to hear of the shift standards.
“It sounds like a quota to me,” Carrasco said.
Carrasco, 27, and his brother-in-law were camped out in his car outside Sawgrass Mills about 3:30 a.m. June 19, hoping to be first in line to buy a new Jordan sneaker.
“Three cops came up and said ‘What are you doing here?'” Carrasco recounted. “We were sitting in the car with snacks and water, minding our own business. I can’t really blame them. But I think sometimes they overdo it. Three of them showed up.”