CHARLESTOWN — The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to all Rhode Island police chiefs reminding them that requiring officers to issue a certain number of traffic tickets is against the law, but town officials believe the effort unfairly targets the Charlestown Police Department for quota practices that never existed in the first place.
Charlestown Police Chief Jeffrey Allen and Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz this week adamantly denied accusations that quotas were being used, a response to the letter from the ACLU of Rhode Island that references allegations against the department made in an NBC 10 I-Team report earlier this month.
“The Charlestown Police Department does not have a ticket quota and will never have a ticket quota under my watch,” Allen said in an email statement. “Ticket quotas are against the law and have been since 2010, as well as (being) contrary to department policy. That said, police officers are expected to enforce traffic laws, especially during the holiday season, so that we all remain safe on our roads.”
Charlestown police came under scrutiny following an I-Team report published on Nov. 1 that indicated emails from police leadership to department officers instructed them to ticket a certain number of motorists or face consequences during their annual reviews.
The report cited emails sent to officers, one in 2012 and a second in 2016, that allegedly required a certain number of stops during certain hours and discouraged the issuing of warnings. In addition, the emails addressed specific Click It or Ticket enforcement and told officers that they should not sign up for the enforcement, which is funded through a federal grant, unless they were willing to write tickets for violations.
Town records show that following an email cited by the I-Team report that was sent in October 2016, the number of traffic citations rose by almost 50 percent, while warnings issued reduced by 20 percent. Records also indicate that, when the first cited email was sent in 2012, the number of citations issued had dropped by 50 percent in a six-month period from January to July.
Aspects of the report were extremely alarming, ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said this week in an email to the media, and led his organization to pen the letter, which demanded departments cease any numerical requirements as it relates to traffic enforcement.
“If your department is one of the agencies alluded to in the news station’s reporting, we urge you to immediately halt any such practice and advise your officers that any order to the contrary is countermanded,” Brown wrote.
“Ticket quota policies, whether ‘suggested’ or mandated, send a message that police enforcement is more about making money than enforcing the law in a fair, equitable and necessary manner. An encounter between a motorist and a police officer over a traffic violation is never a pleasant one, but it is even less so when the basis for the stop is to meet a quota, not to address a truly legitimate safety need. A quota policy can only generate disrespect for, and cynicism about, law enforcement.”
Brown also said the ACLU may seek legal action on behalf of motorists impacted by possible quotas. The organization has not said what that legal action would be.
Allen and Stankiewicz not only denied the accusation, but said the emails — which were leaked by a member of the department — were addressed with reporters and that much of the information in the leaked emails was taken out of context.
Officials said one email addressed specific grant requirements and practices related to the federal grant-funded Click It or Ticket campaign, while a second addressed concerns related to a fatal Charlestown crash in 2010 in which a woman with 19 warnings and no tickets had struck and killed a motorcyclist.
Furthermore, officials are concerned that accusations do not take into consideration a near three-year process to gain accreditation, which was approved through the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission in June.
Stankiewicz said that during the process, the department reviewed all of its policies, including a traffic-enforcement policy that was implemented in 2015 following a lengthy development and review led by Lt. Michael Paliotta. That policy was also revised in March 2017 and was provided to The Sun.
“I can say quite conclusively that we do not and have not ever had any quota program here in Charlestown,” Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz said. “I can assure you are officers are working hard every day toward our primary goal, which is to keep everyone safe and to keep the peace in our community.”