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LAPD’s Six Million Dollar Motorcycle Cops

Eleven "bucketheads" sue LAPD for enforced ticket quotas, split $5.9 million settlement.

by
Jack Dunphy

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December 18, 2013 - 12:09 am
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Call it the Revenge of the Bucketheads.

Last week, the Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of motorcycle officers who claimed they had been given negative evaluations and denied access to overtime assignments for having failed to issue a required number of traffic citations.  The eleven officers will share a $5.9 million settlement.

Back in May 2011 I wrote in this space of a similar lawsuit, one of several at the time in which LAPD officers prevailed in cases against department management.  In the earlier case, a jury awarded a pair of motorcycle officers $2 million, accepting the officers’ claims that they too were punished for failing to write a sufficient number of traffic tickets.  The California Vehicle Code specifically prohibits quotas for traffic enforcement.

It’s hard to know with whom to sympathize here, that is except for the taxpayers of Los Angeles, who are on the hook for millions of dollars which surely could be put to better use than enriching a handful of cops. In looking at things first from a management perspective, if you select an officer for a motorcycle assignment, a desirable position for which there is much competition, do you not have the right to expect that officer to go out and earn his pay for the ten hours of his assigned shift?  In Los Angeles, as in most places where police use motorcycles, traffic enforcement is the motorcycle cop’s primary duty. (And good luck trying to get them to do anything else.  I once found myself alone trying to sort out a multi-car, multi-injury pileup on an L.A. freeway only to see a motor cop snake through the backed-up traffic and breeze right past me and out of sight without so much as a nod.)

The alleged “quota” for these aggrieved officers was 18 tickets in a ten-hour shift, which hardly seems burdensome.  Considering that the typical traffic stop lasts about ten minutes, anyone familiar with the peculiar ways of Los Angeles drivers can imagine writing two or three times that many in some parts of town and still having plenty of time left for lunch.

And staying with the management perspective for a bit, there is a reason motor cops are called “bucketheads,” and it’s not just the helmets they wear.  As a breed, they are among the more ornery of the species.  They are rather like the mules of police work: when properly motivated, they can achieve great things, but when the proper motivation is lacking, it’s all but impossible to get them to budge.  Many a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain have been driven to near madness (and sometimes beyond, now that I think about it) by having to deal with cantankerous motor cops.

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Top Rated Comments   
To those who claim that traffic tickets are nothing but revenue generators for the city, all I can say is that in all my years with the LAPD, including some time spent in traffic, I never heard a single word from anyone of any rank encouraging cops to write tickets so as to fatten the city’s coffers.

Well, there's an easy way to test that hypothesis. Pass a state law that says all the money collected from the fines goes... somewhere else. Not a single thin dime of it stays in the jurisdiction of the officer who write the ticket.

Then check back in a year to see if any departments still have quotas.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's not for revenue? BS. It's just under the guise of public safety, same as the red light cameras. Cities rake in millions in traffic citations, and the only other comparable revenue generator is asset forfeiture. Right behind that would be eminent domain abuse.

We're not stupid, and I'm insulted that you think we're that naive.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
In our business of policing, of which I was one for twenty years-ending as a senior detective- I can say without a shadow of a doubt marginal capabilities are sought after in government work. Why? Because marginal drones follow quirky orders better than smarter cops.

Smarter cops drive not so smart supervisors nuts!

There is a principle in all government organizations called "the Peter principle." It goes like this "A person rises to the level of incompetence and then stops." For example, a great street cop makes a good sergeant, a good sergeant makes a passable Lieutenant, a passable Lieutenant makes a questionable Captain (commander in some departments). But because of unions and rules of government employment you can't fire the person for poor performance (you put them there after all) nor can you demote them back down. (affects their income) "They suck" is not a reason for firing or demoting if they don't commit an offense. So they get moved around, getting passable evaluations and raises, until they retire- with a nice pension.

That guarantee of reward for average performance draws average people who know they will never make it in the private sector.

It just is.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (33)
All Comments   (33)
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I used to commute from Mt Wash to the westside/airport area in the mid 80s and took Figueroa to get on the 110 S at Ave 26. I don't know how many times (usually first week of the month) I would see one or two cars or one or two motorcycle cops pulling motors over, one after another--all for valid traffic errors: Cutting someone off to change lanes at the last minute, failing to yield/driving thru a red light--you name it, they did it.
And what drove me crazy was the fact that if I could see them parked there, pulling people over, where did the drivers that got pulled over have their eyes and their minds that they didn't notice such an OBVIOUS place to practice your best driving habits...i.e., observe the law.
My thoughts on the subject were that if people weren't paying attention to the traffic in front of them then they deserved a ticket and if it made that intersection/onramp safer, then all the better.

As far as where the tickets go, there are a whole lot of add-ons put in by various state and municipal entities...http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/09/26/fees-penalties-nearly-quadruple-traffic-ticket-costs-for-calif-drivers/As far as the person in charge responsible? Dunphy's here to write a story...brief, inclusive. The information is out there is you want it...took me less than 5 minutes. I think Dunphy is pointing the finger at the system more than the individuals.....Here's the link:
http://libertyfight.com/2013/LAPD_punished_for_traffic_ticket_quotas.Let the guys (and women) in blue (and tan) enforce the existing state laws and get that Special Order overturned.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
To those who claim that traffic tickets are nothing but revenue generators for the city, all I can say is that in all my years with the LAPD, including some time spent in traffic, I never heard a single word from anyone of any rank encouraging cops to write tickets so as to fatten the city’s coffers.

Well, there's an easy way to test that hypothesis. Pass a state law that says all the money collected from the fines goes... somewhere else. Not a single thin dime of it stays in the jurisdiction of the officer who write the ticket.

Then check back in a year to see if any departments still have quotas.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
That is an excellent idea. The same thing should be done for asset forfeiture. You could say any collections from state and local, goes to the general state bidget, and for the feds goes toward the general fed budget. nobody in law enfiorcement should have any financial incentive for either fines or asset forfeiture, they should do it solely because they want the law fairly enforced.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Part of the problem of inept captains responsible for this problem is the many who will not even name them. Come one the woman is skating by and will continue to skate because no one makes public her name.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
" I never heard a single word from anyone of any rank encouraging cops to write tickets so as to fatten the city’s coffers. "

Well, Obama knew nothing about the IRS, or Fast & Furious, about Bengahzi...
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Follow up:

Well, the cities wouldn't admit traffic signals were rigged to generate traffic fines, either, but the Institute for Transportation Engineers (www.ite.org) and the Best Highway Safety Practices Institute (www.BHSPI.org) has suggested (as has the NTSB in the 80's and again in the 90s) that about 80% of traffic signals (lights) are set in a way that creates dangerous conditions.

So, either they're incredibly inept, or they're deliberately creating deadly situations.

Want to guess which one is right (here's a hint: 80% is more than just "chance", it's deliberation).
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ideally all the money from traffic tickets should go to the state government who should rebate it back to the local level on a per population for the locality basis. This would take the incentive out of writing tickets for revenue generation.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nothing will change, so long as the politicians and bureaucrats are detached from any punishment or costs.

The day that politicians and their bureaucrat butt buddies start going to jail and paying huge fines; is the exact same day they will stop screwing the people they are supposed to serve.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nothing will change until public sector unions are outlawed, and every cop, fire fighter, water company employee, etc. becomes an "at will" employee with an individually negotiated compensation package.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
...I once found myself alone trying to sort out a multi-car, multi-injury pileup on an L.A. freeway only to...

Isn't that supposed to be the CHP's primary jurisdiction?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
In some states, the state police aren't required if it doesn't involve a fatality or if it's within a municipal jurisdiction.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
With respect to affirmation action in managerial appointments the old saying still pertains, "it's not who you know it's upon whom you perform fellatio". You go girl!
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's not for revenue? BS. It's just under the guise of public safety, same as the red light cameras. Cities rake in millions in traffic citations, and the only other comparable revenue generator is asset forfeiture. Right behind that would be eminent domain abuse.

We're not stupid, and I'm insulted that you think we're that naive.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Gretz, Actually the counties run the courts, traffic violations are generally violations of state vehicle codes so those two entities get the majority of the funds collected, most of which goes to administration costs. The cities are the runts of the litter and get whatever is left, which goes to paying their admin costs. FYI, city traffic enforcement units do not even cover their own costs . I doubt the CHP makes a profit for the State, I know you have checked out their budget and have seen that for yourself.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/078ftoqz.asp

/excerpt
Inside the District's Red Lights

Red-light cameras are all over Washington--and coming to a city near you. The science behind them is bad and the police are using them to make money, not save lives. It's much worse than you thought. Part 1 in a series.
/end
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The California Vehicle Code specifically prohibits quotas for traffic enforcement."

Right there any sympathy you had for management should have died a quick and very painful death. Sympathy for the taxpayers, sure. For management, nah.

Of course, the cynical part of me wonders if the officers were objecting because they didn't want to be overworked, or if they were objecting to illegal orders and being made the instruments of injustice?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
The money should come out of some place that causes the management some suffering, so the next time this pops up, several people yell "NO!", instead of finding a dodge to do it anyway.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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