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10 LAPD officers sue, saying department has traffic-ticket quotas

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef014e887a6712970d-800wi

Ten Los Angeles motor 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 officers Philip Carr, Timothy Dacus, Kevin Cotter, Peter Landelius, Kevin Ree, Kevin Riley, Josh Sewell, Vincent Stroway, James Wallace and Jason Zapatka -- all of the West Traffic Division -- filed suit a week ago in Los Angeles 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 amount of traffic tickets they produced was the basis for an illegal comparison among fellow West Traffic Bureau motor cops.

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 are often under pressure themselves to generate more citations.

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

Howard Chan and David Benioff, both veteran motorcycle officers with the department's 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 to officers that they 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 they were ordered to scrap regular patrol assignments and 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.

Attorney 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.

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-- Andrew Blankstein

Twitter: @anblanx

Photo: LAPD officers at police headquarters. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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