Traffic cops sue LAPD over illegal ticket quotas

Dailies -



“These kind of quotas undermine the confidence of citizens in the Los Angeles Police Department,” said the lawyer for one of two LAPD traffic officers who just won a $2 million settlement after being ordered to write a minimum of 18 major moving violation tickets per-day. Their victory could put an end to riders and drivers being illegally fleeced in the city and will hopefully inspire police officers nationwide to stand up against a style of law enforcement that’s become about making money, not saving lives.

The two motorcycle cops, Howard Chan and David Benioff, originally filed complaints in 2009 after they were ordered to make writing a set number of traffic tickets the main focus of their daily routine. The suit came when the pair were harassed, threatened and given “bogus” performance reviews when they objected to the quota system.

The problem with a quota system is that, first and foremost, it’s illegal. The California Vehicle Code states this pretty clearly when it says “No state or local agency employing peace officers or parking enforcement employees engaged in the enforcement of this code or any local ordinance adopted pursuant to this code, may establish any policy requiring any peace officer or parking enforcement employees to meet an arrest quota.”

Former LAPD motorcycle sergeant and current City Councilman Dennis Zine summed it up best saying “You can’t violate the law to enforce the law.”

Secondly, quotas are illegal for a reason. Mandating a minimum amount of a certain type crime is all sorts of unethical. Cops are forced to spend their time writing traffic tickets instead of doing real police work, statistics are artificially manipulated and a whole lot of people get screwed out of a few hundred bucks in the short term and safety and security in the long term. Every minute a police officer spends making up tickets is a minute they don’t spend protecting and serving the public.

According to former LAPD Cmdr. Paul Kim’s testimony during the hearing, “factors such as weather, the price of gas and paramedic response times played a larger role in affecting traffic fatality and injury numbers.”

It used to be that we could expect helpful, friendly, responsible and mature policing from our LEOs. Police officers were respected because they performed an essential service to communities and they did it in a professional manner. Reference that shot of CHiPs on the top of the article. I say “used to” because now if you have a conversation with a police officer, it’s likely to start with you being asked if you know why you were stopped and end with your signature on a dotted line. These officers deserve medals for standing up against the LAPD and the quota system. A million bucks a piece is still pretty good though. If only out of purely financial motivations, we hope that other officers in other departments nationwide also take a stand against illegal quota systems.

This is a pretty major victory for anyone riding or driving on the west side of LA. If you’ve ever been to a courthouse in LA County, you know just how ridiculous traffic violations have become. There’s a line out the door to get in, packed court rooms and another line at the clerk’s office when it finally comes time to pay your ticket. Make no mistake, the goal of the traffic ticket game is to get a lot of people to pay a lot of expensive tickets. While the LAPD hasn’t come out and said that they’re no longer going to be using a quota system, Benioff’s attorney says “we’re very hopeful that this will put an end to fleecing motorists on the west side of Los Angeles.”

via LA Times and LA Now

  • R.Sallee

    Wait, why the hell did they get $2 million from the city? That’s tax payer money.

    • Wes Siler

      Because that’s how the American legal system works. The city wouldn’t learn unless there was a financial penalty. They took on a great amount of financial and career risk by standing up for the rest of us, don’t begrudge them their victory.

    • Mark D

      Its punitive damages against the LAPD for fucking these guys around when the tried to follow the law. But yeah, I suppose in the end, its tax payer money. Serves us right for not keeping a close enough eye on the PD, I suppose.

      • Kirill

        Exactly. Its incentive for the people to get off their asses and tell the people in charge to quit dickin around (or replace them with new people that will).

    • Ben

      Also it now supports and rewards some guys that did the right thing. The thin blue line is going to fuck them now, so they need something to live off.

      • jason

        You got it! I’m a fireman and one thing about PD and FD bosses, thy don’t EVER want stuff coming out in public. Those 2 might as well give up being cops because they are gonna be blackballed. Hell, my first officer back in 1997 was a lieutenant for 25 years because the chiefs had a hardon for him. Scored #1 on every Captains test and they skipped him (which is legal, the “Rule of 3″). We get a new chief from outta town around 1998 and whadda ya know, he gets promoted. I’m glad they won. I soent 6 years in the Marines in SoCal and every dbag tool I worked with got out and went right to LAPD. Which is why I became a fireman. Cops here i the northeast are way more relaxed.

    • Core

      Normally I’d be in the same boat as you on your thinking. But they took a huge risk in fighting this, so this honestly doesn’t bother me. If it takes 2Mil to get the system over there straightened out, its better to do it now than pay interest later on.

  • Kirill

    I got two BS tickets when I lived in LA, one for an illegal lane change and one for running a stop sign (because I stopped past the line to be able to see cross-traffic past the line of parked cars). Figures they had quotas in place. Hopefully this paints a spotlight on such practices and makes them go away (or at least go back to being implicit instead of explicit).

  • ktaisa

    I think NWA said it best.

    cali is so broke they tried to make up revenue from tickets? haha

    • Case

      Umm, almost every municipality in CA is broke and yes, they try and make up the revenue gap with tickets.

  • Kevin

    I really hope this changes things in NYC. Especially after this story was in the papers.

    • Noah

      A friend of mine from Chinatown, Manhattan was written a 100 ticket for “smoking vehicle” while warming up his 74′ Suzuki GT550. Um, yeah, its a two stroke…

  • Stuart

    Over the years I have been pulled over for a couple of legit minor traffic violations but all the other time it has been complete quota bullshit.

    If you live in L.A., the amount of CHP and traffic cops grows immensely towards the end of each month and the end of each quarter.

    The traffic violations in L.A. are so ridiculously handled by the cops and the courts that it has made most of L.A. drivers and riders lose complete respect for the police officer profession.

    You take the ticket and shut-up to not make it any worse (because they can make it worse), but inside you just wish the bastard was hit right there by a pigeon taking a dump.

  • protomech

    A bigger concern is that putting a lower boundary on number of citations implies that a frequency of violations is occurring at all times sufficient to support the citations. In other words, the citations are ineffective at deterring the violations and act only as a revenue stream.

    Imagine if instead each officer had to arrest a certain number – say 5 – of murderers per month.

  • jeremy

    “It used to be that we could expect helpful, friendly, responsible and mature policing from our LEOs.”


    • Mark D

      Haha, good point. Should read, “If you were a white middle class protestant male, it used to be that we could expect helpful, friendly, responsible and mature policing from our LEOs.”

      I will say though, that all my non-traffic dealings with the Boston PD have been extremely helpful and professional. Small town cops are another story.

      • Wes Siler

        Ha, there is that.

        Growing up in a country (UK) where police officers are your friends, it was something of a shock to move to a city like NY where cops are essentially just a roving pack of street thugs.

        • moby grape

          Every single NYPD officer is a street thug? You should ride with one for a couple of days. You might understand why they might have an attitude.

          • Michael

            Tough shit. Taking out their frustrations on the populace is inexcusable.

            Fuck the police. Seriously. Unless in need of emergency direct assistance I will never, ever speak to a cop, and neither should anyone else, if they know what’s good for them.

          • Wes Siler

            I’ll stop thinking every last one of them is when they stop sodomizing innocent people they’ve arrested for no reason, shooing innocent black men 57 times, brutalizing protestors and tackling commuters off their bicycles.

            Two undercover drug cops purposefully hit Grant with their car last year when we were shooting a couple bikes.

            • Kirill

              The NYPD makes the LAPD looks like a bunch of saints, its pretty impressive.

            • Ben

              Wait what? Is he ok, was he on a bike at the time?

  • Brook

    Hmmm…I’ve only been pulled over by CHP, never a local PD. Lucky I guess.

    • T Diver

      Sheriffs are gnarly. (It must be because they get jaded working in the prisons). Then the CHP. They seem to be pissed that everyone thinks their jurisdiction is just the highways when in actuality they ARE the state police. LADP are mellow. They seem to realize that they have a much better relationship with the community when they work WITH the community as opposed to AGAINST the community. My buddy did a wheelie without realizing there was an LAPD right next to him. When he came down he was expecting to get arrested but instead he just got a thumbs-up. I know, that’s rare but go figure. As with any profession, there are dicks in every bunch. That’s my take on the Southern California Law Enforcement Spectrum though. (SCLES – I work at a bank so I love accronyms.)
      My favorite is the motorcycle cops who pulls people over on Olympic during rush hour in the active traffic lane. And thus creates a far bigger traffic hazard than whatever the driver he pulled over could have been doing. At least pull onto a side street. Or not. (It’s your dumbass that will get run over by the my coworker rushing home while updating their Facebook status.)

  • Nik

    Good for them. Too bad our city is fucking broke as shit. I wonder if those two are still in the department or if they’ve been ostracized.

    • Sean Smith

      One is retired, the other is still on the force.

  • aristurtle

    Heh, this is particularly topical for me because I just got pulled over last night. Granted, on the opposite coast, but still. It sucks whenever it happens, even when it’s “fair”.

  • the_doctor

    ‘Former LAPD motorcycle sergeant and current City Councilman Dennis Zine summed it up best saying “You can’t violate the law to enforce the law.”’

    Are you kidding? I AM THE LAW!

  • Dennis

    “It used to be that we could expect helpful, friendly, responsible and mature policing from our LEOs. Police officers were respected because they performed an essential service to communities and they did it in a professional manner.”[Citation needed]

    “…Reference that shot of CHiPs on the top of the article.”

    Um, Sean? I hate to be the one to shatter your illusions, but CHiPs was not a documentary. It was fiction.

    That fiction limited by a lot more than the writers’ imaginations, though. The California Highway Patrol required, as the price of their cooperation, that they only write scripts that made the CHP look good. Until now that fact never bothered me but it appears the pro-cop propaganda worked on somebody.

    Also, I witness easily 18 moving violations per hour on a casual ride around town. Quotas are wrong, especially if they’re ticketing people arbitrarily instead of catching the real idiot drivers. But 18 a day ought to be a pretty easy quota to meet. Maybe if more people got tickets they’d either learn to drive or start taking the bus.

    • Sean Smith

      What? Not a documentary? Shit man, I’ve been living a lie…

  • pinkyracer

    pffft. the CHP still seem to have a quota out on me. 90% of the time I get popped by CHP not LAPD. LAPD have real criminals to go after, so they don’t bother me. CHP should fucking be abolished.

    There are better ways to increase revenue for the state. Like, taxing oil drilling, which if we’d approved in 2008, would’ve probably saved us (at least somewhat) from the current financial shitstorm we’re in.

  • a hipster

    this is awesome. everytime i see a CHP hidden behind some speed trap, I wonder if his job is to help enforce laws on the masses or catch people so he can create revenue.

    if they wanted people to drive slower and safer, they’d park in plain view

    • jpenney


      The should really get after the tailgaters and otherwise aggressive drivers. 10 over on an empty highway isn’t dangerous.

  • Steve

    Quotas such as this are unconstitutional. Setting a quote means you are assuming some number of people are guilty. At least on paper, we are still a country that follows the “innocent until proven guilty” concept. What would happen if there were a day when every citizen of LA decided to scrupulously follow every traffic law? Would this policy then force the cops the ticket or arrest a quota of otherwise innocent people lest the officer face punishment?

    In practice we know that some number of infractions are committed every day. But we have to start with the assumption that everyone is innocent.

  • gregorbean

    I don’t know if I was just lucky, but I don’t think I was running under the speed limit the whole time I lived in LA, and I managed to not get a single ticket. Probably because I stayed off the highways as much as possible…more fun to rally through arterial traffic on the supermoto.

  • John

    I’ve picked up a half dozen tickets from the CHP in northern California in the last ten years, and I flippin’ hate getting a ticket, but…every one was technically correct, and only a couple officers were jerky. Two days ago I got pulled over for not having a rear plate (bracket broke that morning, I had it bungeed to the back of my courier bag for the ride home). I pointed the new location out to the CHP, he took my license and ran me, gave it back and said, “I wouldn’t even have pulled you over if I’d have seen it on your bag.” Then he checked out my ratty XS650 street tracker, said it was cool, and took off. So: not all assholes, not always wrong.

  • Case

    My experience with SoCal cops is directly proportionate to the amount of actual crime they have to police. CHP is mostly the highways and are mostly professional. In my experience they will ticket you but it’s all business. I have not gotten a bullshit ticket from a CHP officer.

    Sheriff’s are a level down. They are famously hit and miss, because they have to start in the prisons, and also they tend to police the unincorporated suburbs where there’s no crime, so you will get a bullshit ticket from time to time. Window tint in southern CA? For real?

    HB, Newport, and especially Irvine PD are mostly bullshit and best avoided at all costs. Everyone has a ‘cool officer’ story, but I’ve got way, way more ‘cockface officer’ stories.

    Kudos to the cops that bucked the LAPD brotherhood of douchebaggery. They deserved the money for giving those clowns the finger. Being blackballed in that culture is no joke.

    • jason

      Add the South bay cops to that. Total D-bags. I think most beach cops deal with drunks and petty BS when they “wanted” to get on a larger dept but the pay sucks and you usually don’t meet hotties at work in Van Nuys So you get young Johnny with his hair jelled up and his shades on looking to prove how badass he is to himself. And I always look for the mustache. Cops out west have uniform and appearance standards like we fucking did in the Marines. If you’re a cop and you bother with an overgrown Hitler stache because that’s all the regs allow, you’re most likely a d-bag.

    • Kirill

      There’s a long-standing rumor that the IPD specifically hires guys that aren’t particularly friendly just to keep the place nice and sterile. Given the stories I’ve heard, wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

  • Cajun58

    I have received absolute bullshit tickets
    from every agency in SoCal Chippy’s, Sheriffs, police even the BLM. I’ve also got a “cool cop” story from most of them as well. You just never know what you’ll get from Johnny Law when he pulls you over.

    • Sean Smith

      Usually it’s a ticket.

  • Kevin

    True story from college: there was a rash of rapes on and around the campus one year, so the cops (the Public Safety Department, as they were called) began escorting students at night from the parking lot at the north end of campus to the library on the south end of campus and back. That was, they did until they decided that for budgetary reasons they needed their armed, trained personnel writing tickets in the parking lot. YOU CANNOT MAKE THIS SHIT UP.

    So of course a bunch of us students volunteered to take their place. Asshats.

    • T Diver

      Someone has to protect the cars from getting raped.

  • casey

    something about city employees getting tax payer money because the city was doing something wrong doesn’t add up.

    • Sean Smith

      I know, it kind of irks me too, but Wes had a point when he said that it’s how the american legal system works. There’s just not getting around it.

  • Mr.Paynter

    Cops are cops all over the world it seems.
    I’ve got BS tickets, I’ve got legit tickets.

    Cops are still dicks a lot of the time when they don’t need to be, I always make a massive effort to be polite, call them officers and basically suck up and stroke their egos and they can still be dicks.

    Our legal system sounds about the same too, in my current predicament, I was clocked by radar doing 120mph on a highway(75mph) apparently and I’m in court because that’s a direct arrest, no ticket.
    Proving I wasn’t doing that speed is going to trial which is a fortune in legal fees and still possibly losing and facing the penalties ($5000 or so fine, permanent criminal record and 6 months without a licence)! Basically now I have to plea bargain, face a suspended sentence for 5 years or more, a $500-$1000 fine and maybe still lose my licence and still have a permanent criminal record because I can’t get the evidence to prove my innocence without going to trial.

    In reality, yes I was speeding but no I wasn’t going that fast, nowhere near, but they still ran out in to the highway in front of me, drawing guns and waving me over and later wanting to charge me with reckless and negligent driving because I cut to the emergency lane to stop without checking my blind spot whilst braking from 90-zero in the space of maybe 200feet.

    Rantrantrant. Rabblerabblerabble.

  • James

    What I do like is that most LEOs can tell “over the speed limit” from “stupid fast.” Due to my advanced age, haggard, gray countenance, retired military ID, and always acting very subservient/submissive (VERY important) and respectful (somewhat important)I only get the ticket about 1 time out of 3. But I never go stupid fast on the street, so the cop and I both know it’s bullshit when I do get one. And sometimes they lie (Officer how fast do think this 250 can go? Maybe your radar needs calibrating, eh?) So I’m hoping this helps get rid of some more of those BS tickets. The fact is that those of us who are paying attention can travel faster than cars more safely than cars, so when I read “my ticket was legitimate” I’m thinking, “really?” Were you unsafe or just travelling faster than that number some beaurocrat thinks is safe for big rigs and soccer moms scolding their kids in the back seat?

  • chaz

    Ah yes…. The cop bashing… I love it….

    I am a cop. For 20 years I have professionally carried out my duties. I have never beaten, robbed, harassed anyone.

    I am a motorcyclist. I read this, look at the “thugs” comments from the editor. I am wondering, why do we enter into the universal cop bashing? Do I think there are bad cops? Sure. Would I hope the rest of us get a fair shake? I would hope so.

    Can I tell you all of the times I was polite, kind and understanding, only to have some jerk scream, yell, and cajole me….There is another side to this. Think about it, and try to be objective.

    Ride well.

    • BeastIncarnate

      “One bad apple” is an unfortunate reality. I occasionally ride with a cop. Great guy and attitude. Cops are people and people come in all types: some are good, some aren’t. Though some would argue that the job itself attracts more of a certain personality type than others, it’s not fair to write off the whole organization.

      In my car, I’ve never had a pleasant experience with a cop. On my bike, every cop has been great. I may be an exception rather than the rule.

      If you feel slighted, you could play the “turnabout is fair play” card and remind the world that motorcycle journalists are a bunch of slimy corporate cocksmokers. Then again, “two wrongs don’t make a right” and all that.

      Cliches are awesome, particularly when deployed with quotation marks.

    • Steven

      Did you ever blow the whistle on the bad cops that you think are there?

      If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the blue wall of silence.

  • John

    Hi, I can’t comment on the CHPs, as I’m a Londoner, and thankfully London cops are too busy to deal with traffic offences (although there is a camera on every single street corner to bring in the money for the councils, in a Big Brother styleee).
    Anyway, I’m coming to LA in 3 weeks and planning to rent a bike, and was wondering if it’s legal to filter through traffic?

    • Sean Smith

      Yep. Lane splitting is the best way to get around LA. Even the cops do it.

      • John

        Thanks Sean,
        I’m looking forward to it :)

        Is there any good rides you would recommend?

        • Sean Smith

          Highway 150 to 33 to 58 is a pretty awesome ride. Highway 39 until it ends, and then double back and go up Glendora Mountain Road to Mt. Baldy. Maulibu, and Angeles Crest are good too.