Ogden PD policy’s ticketing provision draws Utah lawmakers’ scrutiny
OGDEN — The provision in the Ogden Police Department officer-evaluation policy related to ticketing for traffic offenses is generating the attention of Utah lawmakers.
Whether the scrutiny leads to change to state law on the issue or tweaks to the Ogden policy, though, is still up in the air. Some wonder if the Ogden policy amounts to a quota on issuing traffic citations, which is prohibited by a 2018 Utah statute.
“We just want to make certain we have a clear understanding of how the statute is being interpreted and administered so we can have a response to the folks who may be critical,” said Sen. Curtis Bramble, a Provo Republican. He was among several lawmakers to query Ogden Police Chief Eric Young about the department’s policy at an Aug. 28 meeting of the Utah Administrative Rules Review and General Oversight Committee, which took up the issue.
Young — who’s also faced questions from the Ogden City Council on the issue — explained and defended the policy, which uses ticketing as one of nine parameters in evaluating job performance of traffic and patrol officers. He also said he’s open to change.
“We’re here to change whatever needs to be changed,” he told the lawmakers, flanked by Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, who also attended the meeting and also defended the policy. “We’re absolutely open to changes. We’re not tied to anything.”
Young told the Standard-Examiner on Thursday that though the policy is on the radar screen of lawmakers, he’s not received word that legislation is in the offing to change it, at least not yet. “Nobody has opened a bill file or proposed any new legislation yet. They just wanted to give it attention and they invited me to be part of that process,” he said.
He also said that a review of the policy by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, sought by Utah Rep. Ryan Wilcox, an Ogden Republican, didn’t raise any red flags for officials in that office.
“They just took a look at it and they didn’t express any concerns with what we’re doing in regards to the law,” Young said. The office didn’t carry out a formal investigation, he said, and he received word of the officials’ take on the policy verbally, not in any sort of written report.
A rep from the attorney general’s office didn’t respond to a Standard-Examiner query on the issue, but Wilcox echoed Young. “Feedback from AG was that Ogden PD was clearly in compliance with the existing law,” he told the Standard-Examiner in a message.
Even so, the issue — brought to the fore after a series of reports by Fox 13, a Salt Lake City television station — has raised questions for some.
Sen. Jacob Anderegg, a Lehi Republican, said the Ogden policy is an issue because it has a financial element — traffic citations that police officers issue generate money in the form of fines for cities and local courts. “That kind of is part of the angst associated with this,” he said.
Per the Ogden Police Department policy in question, patrol and traffic officers face job reviews in nine areas, including traffic work, report writing, handling of investigations, public relations, teamwork, appearance/preparedness, decision making and handling of calls. The ninth area relates to numbers of arrests made, search warrants issued and more.
Per the traffic work provision — focus of all the scrutiny — officers are judged on the number of traffic tickets they issue per 40-hour work week. Though there are nuances, two citations for moving or nonmoving infractions would be enough to meet departmental expectations.
For some, that policy, by tying performance evaluation to ticketing, results in pressure to write tickets, a quota system. Young, though, says the ticketing provision within the broader policy is about making sure officers comply with one of their key duties — helping assure safety on city streets. It’s not about the money ticketing generates, he has said.
“What Ogden City is doing is about accountability and safety for the public,” Young told the lawmakers at the hearing. Utah’s law prohibiting ticketing quotas contains an exception letting law enforcement agencies use an officer’s “enforcement activity” as a performance gauge and he argues that the Ogden policy complies with the provision.
Young went on, saying the public, if anything, seems to want more traffic enforcement, not less.
“I don’t get calls about over-aggressive traffic enforcement in Ogden. I get tons of complaints about lack of traffic enforcement. I get them over and over and over about speeding in neighborhoods, dangerous drivers, about racing up and down along Washington Boulevard,” he said.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, a Morgan Republican, said in talking to officers, she’s found that they aren’t fans of policies that evaluate them based on ticketing. She’s co-chair along with Bramble of the Utah Administrative Rules Review and General Oversight Committee.
“Any performance metrics that were tied to citations overwhelmingly were objected to,” she said.
Young countered, saying most officers bristle at having to write tickets, regarding it as an unpleasant part of the job given the friction they typically receive from those on the receiving end. However, he said it’s a necessary part of policing as ticketing has been shown to help improve road safety.
Lawmakers took no action on the issue at the Aug. 28 meeting.