State law bars NCSHP from using ticket quotas

Some people are convinced those end-of-the-month tickets are to meet a quota. We are looking into laws in North Carolina and the number of speeding tickets given.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s the end of the month, you’re running late for work, and you see the flashing lights behind you. It’s a scene all too familiar for some motorists: getting a traffic ticket. Some folks are convinced those end-of-the-month tickets are meant to meet a police officer’s quota.

“I will stop someone, and they will say ‘I’m filling your quota for the day’,” North Carolina Master Trooper Ray Pierce recalled.

Pierce has been on the force with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) for 23 years and for all of those 23 years, he’s heard these allegations.

“North Carolina is one of the states that prohibits quotas,” he said.

The law Pierce is referring to is NC Statute 20-187.3. It states, in part:

The Secretary of Public Safety shall not make or permit to be made any order, rule, or regulation requiring the issuance of any minimum number of traffic citations, or ticket quotas, by any member or members of the State Highway Patrol.

“A supervisor is unable to physically tell you we need this many citations per day per week per month,” Tim Aycock, spokesperson for the Matthews Police Department, explained.

Though the law only references NCSHP, Aycock said his department also does not have a quota.

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“It seems to be an ongoing urban legend, it passes along like a bad rumor,” Aycock said. “We do not have a quota, we can’t have a quota. It would be a huge legal issue.”

That being said, police departments do track how many citations each officer gives out. They also track how many calls for service an officer answers. 

“All we do is numbers-driven,” Aycock said. “We keep stats on everything; so that officer is going to see how many violations they issued versus the previous year. 

Aycock said those stats are more than just traffic tickets. They also represent the number of case reports filed, traffic crash investigations, and “what we call self-initiated calls for service.”

“It’s just like any other profession. If you have an employee that has been compensated for a 40-hour workweek and they have nothing to show for that workweek, yes, your supervisor is going to call you in and say you were compensated by the state for a 40-hour workweek,” Pierce said. “You have to show me something. You have to show me calls for service to show that you can get paid by the state of North Carolina.”

Annual number of tickets

Patrick McHugh, a research manager for the nonprofit NC Budget & Tax Center, said more than $6 billion of the state’s revenue comes from fines and fees. 

“You see where we are using fines and fees to essentially pay for what we had previously been paying for with tax revenue,” he said. 

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A study from the North Carolina Justice Center found that between 2011 and 2018, fines and fees collected by the state increased by 26%. That number includes money from tickets.

Daily number of tickets

WCNC Charlotte asked NCSHP if they could provide the number of speeding tickets handed out each day for three months. WCNC Charlotte wanted to see whether the pace of ticket-writing increased towards the end of the month. 

The state said they only keep track of tickets given out per month or by year. In 2019, NCSHP issued 272,905 speeding tickets. In 2020, there were 264,101 speeding tickets handed out. In 2021, that number jumped to 311,462. 

“Our agency has always been the same. We write clear-cut substantial violations,” Pierce said. “Any supervisor that you have is going to want you to write clear-cut substantial violations.”

That’s the distinction: supervisors can ask officers to write citations for any significant infractions they observe, but they’re not allowed to require officers to hit a certain number of tickets by the end of the month.

WCNC Charlotte is always asking “where’s the money?” If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing [email protected].

Contact Meghan Bragg at [email protected] and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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