Ogden police chief defends officer evaluation policy after critical news report
OGDEN — Ogden Police Chief Eric Young is defending his department in the wake of a critical news report suggesting departmental policy governing officer evaluations has the effect of encouraging officers to write more traffic tickets in violation of state law.
The “traffic-weighted criteria” used along with eight other factors in evaluating officers’ performance “is about rewarding hardworking officers, reducing accidents and reducing crime,” Young said Tuesday during an Ogden City Council work session.
Per the ticketing criteria in question, officers are to write two citations in a 40-hour workweek, among other things, to comply with the baseline evaluation standards, he said. The standard applies to 56 patrol officers and six traffic officers.
However, Fox 13, a Salt Lake City television station, published an investigative report on May 15 suggesting the policy, by tying performance evaluations to ticketing, is tantamount to a quota system, prohibited by state law. Some officers, lawmakers and drivers “feel the department is acting against the spirit of the law at best, or breaking the law at worst,” reads the Fox 13 report.
For the report, Fox 13 spoke to seven current or former Ogden police officers, among others, and each “shared stories of how their supervisors pressured them to write more tickets.” Some of them said the policy made them “feel like their job was more about ‘raising revenue’ than ‘public safety.'” Moreover, data compiled by Fox 13 shows that per capita revenue in Ogden from fines and forfeitures, presumably from police activity, is highest among 19 Utah cities reviewed at $22.57 per person for fiscal year 2022.
The report spurred questions from members of the Ogden City Council, leading to Young’s presentation to the officials on Tuesday in council chambers. He spoke to them, taking and answering questions as well, for about 55 minutes.
Young initially pointed out the state statute in question governing arrest and citation quotas. The law reads that a law enforcement agency “may not require or direct that a peace officer meet a law enforcement quota.” But the law also states that the restriction does not prohibit police departments from “including a peace officer’s engagement with the community or enforcement activity as part of an overall determination of the peace officer’s performance.”
Young said police officers crafted the ticketing guidelines used to evaluate officer job performance, aiming for a figure that represented the average, not an aspirational goal. The aim of the varied guidelines, not just the ticketing guideline, is to hold officers accountable for their performance, to identify underperforming officers.
“It’s not about having every officer go out and write as many tickets as they can for revenue. It’s about what’s the core responsibility of your job,” he said. In fact, he later said, he doesn’t know how much revenue ticketing generates — department staffers are in the process of getting the numbers — “and I’ve never been asked to increase the revenues.”
He further emphasized the importance of issuing traffic citations in keeping roadways safe.
“Traffic enforcement and traffic citations are what reduce serious injury and fatal accidents. Warnings don’t reduce them. Officers being present don’t reduce them,” he said.
Studies, he said, bear out the connection between heightened traffic enforcement and improved safety. Beyond that, he said, traffic stops help fight crime because they can lead to drug seizures, arrests of people with outstanding warrants and more.
Council member Bart Blair, who’s running for mayor, praised Young and the department. “I appreciate not only the morale you provide in the police department but the leaders that you’re creating and the safety you’re providing to our neighbors. I appreciate everything you do,” he said.
Member Ben Nadolski, also a mayoral hopeful, wondered if Young would consider changing the standards on ticketing to give equal weight to warnings and citations when evaluating an officer’s job performance. As is, citations weigh more favorably than warnings in job evaluations.
“Whether it is or isn’t a quota that’s for a lawyer to decide. But I worry about the perception … because I worry about our community trusting you guys,” Nadolski said.
Young responded, saying citations, but not warnings, have been shown to reduce accidents. Moreover, he senses the public trusts that when officers issue tickets, it’s for legitimate cause. “I’m pretty confident that’s how they feel we’re doing business right now,” Young said.
Malik Dayo was the only Ogden resident to address the ticketing issue during the public comment portion of the City Council meeting that followed the work session. “From now on when I get pulled over, if I get a ticket I’m going to know it’s because that officer is looking at his career, he’s looking to build up points to get incentives, to get promoted, to get more pay, and I don’t believe that’s correct to do to ordinary Ogden residents,” he said.
Ogden City Council hopeful Alexander Castagno posted a Facebook message Thursday critical of the police department guideline on ticketing, saying it’s “no different than a quota.” He’s running for the 4th District seat, now held by Nadolski.
The policy “erodes trust between the citizens of Ogden and their leadership, as well as the police force. Requiring officers to give out two tickets per week is the same thing as saying that there are a guaranteed number of criminals amongst us that deserve a ticket,” Castagno wrote.
Fox 13 published a story Wednesday after Tuesday’s work session discussion saying Ogden “is doubling down on what some Utah lawmakers refer to as an ‘illegal police quota.'”