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10 LAPD officers sue over alleged traffic ticket quotas

The West Traffic Division motorcycle officers say their supervisors retaliated against them by denying them overtime and giving them negative performance reviews.

August 05, 2011|By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

Ten Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officers have sued the city, alleging that their supervisors retaliated against them for resisting traffic ticket quotas, according to a court filing reviewed Thursday.

Attorneys for West Traffic Division Officers Philip Carr, Kevin Cotter, Timothy Dacus, Peter Landelius, Kevin Ree, Kevin Riley, Josh Sewell, Vincent Stroway, James Wallace and Jason Zapatka filed suit a week ago in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Among their allegations is that LAPD supervisors punished them for refusing to follow orders to implement traffic ticket quotas. They also allege that the number of traffic tickets they produced was the basis for an illegal comparison among fellow West Traffic Division motorcycle officers.

The punishments included being denied overtime and other unspecified benefits, as well as being given negative performance reviews.

The LAPD did not immediately comment on the allegations.

Ticket quotas are illegal under state law since they can pressure police to write spurious tickets to meet the goal. The line between setting a quota and pushing officers to increase their productivity is a delicate one for field supervisors, who often are under pressure themselves to generate more citations.

In April, a jury awarded a pair of veteran LAPD officers — also assigned to the West Traffic Division — $2 million after determining that supervisors had retaliated against them for complaining about alleged traffic ticket quotas.

Howard Chan and David Benioff, both veteran motorcycle officers with West Traffic Division, sued the department in 2009, alleging that they had been punished with bogus performance reviews, threats of reassignment and other forms of harassment after objecting to demands from commanding officers that they write a certain number of tickets each day, according to the civil action.

That case dates back to late 2006, when command of the traffic division was handed over to Capt. Nancy Lauer. Chan and Benioff alleged in their lawsuit that Lauer and her sergeants and lieutenants made it clear that officers were expected to write at least 18 tickets each day. The number of tickets an officer wrote was recorded on their performance evaluation, the suit alleged.

The officers said that supervisors ranked them against other officers based on the number of tickets they wrote and cars they impounded, which is also a violation of state law.

Attorney Shaun Dabbe Jacobs, who argued the case for the city, tried to persuade jurors that the department had simply established broad goals rather than specific quotas, and that supervisors were trying to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities.

The officers testified that they were sent instead to specific streets where they were more likely to catch motorists committing moving violations. Though not illegal, being sent to those so-called orchards or cherry patches, they said, reinforced the belief that hitting ticket targets trumped other aspects of the job.

Gregory Smith, one of the attorneys representing the 10 officers and who also prevailed in court on behalf of Chan and Benioff, had no immediate comment on the case.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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