FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – The sound of the siren. The lights in your mirror. You know the feeling …and you know what’s next.
No one likes to be pulled over by police for a traffic violation.
Some of you might even argue that you weren’t speeding … or you didn’t run that traffic light. You could have sworn your blinker was on when you made that turn.
But what if you knew what the I-Team has learned.
We have obtained internal Fort Worth Police Department memos that show some officers who are part of a special enforcement program – funded by a federal grant and administered by the state — must make at least four traffic stops an hour.
It is against the law in Texas for police to have a traffic ticket quota. But a veteran Fort Worth officer, who spoke to the I-Team on the condition that he remains anonymous, says the Fort Worth PD runs a quota system anyway.
“That’s how the Fort Worth Police Department tries to get around the quota system …they don’t come out and say ‘write four citations,’ they say four “contacts,” the officer told the I-Team, adding: “But the officer working the grant knows what “contact” means.”
The FWPD is one of numerous law enforcement agencies in Texas that participate in the Selected Traffic Enforcement Program, also known as STEP.
The Dallas Police Department’s recent step grant is reportedly worth nearly $1 million. But when the I-Team repeatedly asked Dallas police about whether they have a quota on ticket writing, they simply did not respond.
However, we obtained exclusively several Fort Worth police internal memos, including one that says, “Our contractual agreement with the state of Texas is that officers will make four traffic contacts per hour. Performance at this level is paramount to maintaining the grant.”
An older police memo said the “law enforcement objective” for the STEP grant program was to increase speed citations by 14,250; DWI arrests by 200; safety belt citations by 975 and child safety seat citations by 100.
Police patrol officers who participate in the STEP program are paid overtime, which is funded by the grant.
The three officers who write the most tickets by the end of the grant period “get a trophy and a letter of appreciation for being the top producers,” the veteran officer told the I-Team.
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead initially agreed to be interviewed, but he cancelled only hours before the meeting was to begin.
The department said the police chief could not address our questions about a quota system because of pending court cases against several officers accused of falsifying information on traffic tickets.
The Texas Department of Transportation also declined to be interviewed on camera and, instead, issued a statement. In part, it said, “At no time does TxDOT require an individual officer to issue a specific number of citations during any specific enforcement period.”
That explanation was not good enough for lawyer Trent Lofitn, a former Tarrant County prosecutor, who said a quota system on the issuance of traffic tickets “is a disruption of your liberty.”
“Let’s say he has to do five or six stops per hour. What if during that time nobody is breaking the law? What’s he going to do, pull somebody over just to make a quota,” Loftin said.
After stepping out of his lawyer’s office, hoping to take care of a speeding ticket he does not think he deserved, Carl Holmes of Fort Worth said he wondered if he may have been a “victim” of a police quota system.
“That (bleep) me off actually,” said Holmes. “If what you’re investigating turns out to be truthful …the department needs to take a look at rectifying and fixing that problem – not just for my sake, but for everybody who comes through Fort Worth,” he said, adding:
“Because it will be look at, people are going to take notice of it and probably make some noise.”