OHP troopers graded on number of arrests, tickets
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 8:33 AM
Read examples of the OHP’s 2013 goals for troopers
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is using a formula to evaluate troopers based in part on the number of tickets they write and number of arrests made, records show.
One policy sets goals for northeastern Oklahoma's Troop L of about four tickets for every 10 traffic stops and 30 arrests per year for alcohol offenses. Some troopers say the new policy takes away their discretion to issue a warning rather than a ticket and are unhappy about the policies.
"I think it's detrimental to the way that the public sees me," said one trooper.
The Tulsa World agreed not to publish the trooper's name, as well as the names of several other sources interviewed for this story. Troopers said they were concerned they could jeopardize their jobs if they spoke out publicly about the new policies.
Capt. George Brown, a spokesman for the patrol, said the policies are goals for 2013 that will be incorporated into troopers' "performance monitoring programs" as part of a quarterly review process. The goals - based on troop average data in different areas of the state - promote and ensure public safety, he said.
"We think that the public expects a certain amount of work and professionalism from the troopers. ... This is part of our goal to reduce collisions," Brown said.
The World requested copies of the policies for all of the agency's troops, copies of previous policies and data on tickets, warnings and arrests by division. Brown said he could not provide that information because the agency's attorney is out of state, but that it would be provided in the near future.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson and Col. Kerry Pettingill, chief of the patrol, did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.
Records obtained by the World show troopers in several areas of the state are being evaluated on a formula that takes into account factors including the number of tickets written versus warnings issued. Warnings issued by troopers for traffic infractions do not count against a driver's record and are not reported to insurers.
Troopers are also being evaluated based on the number of DUI arrests made, records show.
Brown said the DUI arrests were a common part of the goals, which are based on data gathered by the OHP and other sources.
"We have data for the last three years that says DUIs are out there," he said.
He said the annual goals can be adjusted next year based on new data and input from troopers. Brown said troopers who have situations that would explain lower statistical performance - such as those serving in the National Guard or who take leave for other reasons - are not penalized.
Records show the formulas take into account what shifts troopers work - evening, day or overnight - and reward troopers who make stops in accident-prone corridors.
In Tulsa County, troopers are encouraged to stop drivers for speeding and other infractions in four areas: Interstate 244 and Mingo Road; U.S. 75 and 116th Street North; Interstate 44 and 33rd West Avenue and Interstate 244 and Oklahoma 51.
Brown said troop supervisors are allowed to customize the goals in order to take into account variations across the state in traffic patterns and other statistics.
"It used to be that the PMP was a little more uniform statewide," Brown said. "We think we can get a little more buy-in from the troopers and the supervisors and those troop commanders and customize this to better reach our goals," he said.
Oklahoma City attorney John Hunsucker, who defends people cited for driving under the influence and other criminal offenses, said he has always been told by troopers such formulas did not exist in the highway patrol.
"It's interesting that they have this quota," he said.
Hunsucker said he is concerned such policies encourage troopers to "look for reasons" to stop motorists to achieve promotions and pay raises.
"When their paycheck depends on and their raises depend on the number of stops they do, then at that point are they really enforcing the law or are they seeing stuff? You see some exaggeration."
State law allows annual "step" raises for troopers in the first seven years, provided they obtain "satisfactory" ratings on their performance reviews.
Brown said the agency hopes to receive funds to give troopers a pay raise this year. He said troopers haven't had a raise in seven years and that the OHP needs to increase salary levels to attract and retain the best employees.
Policy tracks tickets
Troopers statewide recently received policies for the current year containing formulas to measure the number of contacts they have with the public and traffic enforcement activity.
An OHP document labeled "Troop L goals and objectives for 2013" lists four goals for the year for troopers in the northeastern Oklahoma troop. The document states: "Each trooper will be evaluated in four categories to determine their effort in attaining the troop goals."
The goals are a 2 percent reduction in all collisions, 10 percent reduction in fatality accidents, 5 percent increase in seat belt enforcement, and 10 percent increase in alcohol-related enforcement.
Under "alcohol-related enforcement," the policy states troopers who exceed standards will make 30 or more arrests per year for three types of offenses: driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated or actual physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated. Troopers meeting standards were defined as making 12-29 such arrests per year. Troopers needing improvement are defined as making six to 11 arrests and those who failed to meet standards made fewer than six arrests in a year, records show.
Another section of the policy contains a ratio of "arrests to warnings," defined as "percentage of contacts resulting in arrest."
Brown said he had not seen the Troop L policy. He said in general, the term "arrest" in such cases means tickets written, not necessarily an arrest ending in citizens being jailed.
The Troop L ticket policy states that troopers who exceed standards will have a ratio of 39 percent or more, meaning about four out of 10 contacts with the public result in a ticket. The policy states that troopers who meet the required standard will have a ratio of 30-38 percent while those who need improvement fall into the 20-29 percent range.
The final category, "does not meet standards," has a ticket ratio of 19 percent.
Brown said the statewide average of tickets written from all contacts is 32 percent.
When asked whether a higher goal in some troops would encourage troopers to cite drivers who barely exceed the speed limit, Brown said a trooper in that case could emphasize improving numbers on other measures.
"We're not reducing discretion," he said. "We are increasing accountability."
A performance plan for some troops grades troopers, in part, on the number of tickets written after a traffic accident. One trooper said he prefers not to write tickets to people involved in single-car accidents who damage only their own cars.
"I just have a philosophical difference with that," he said.
Hunsucker said the patrol has other motives besides safety to enact such policies. He noted that court costs and fees generated by arrests and citations add money to the agency's coffers in tight budget times.
"You are going to see more situations where you are going to be pulled over for doing nothing more than driving at 2 o'clock in the morning," Hunsucker said.
Records show a state revolving fund intended to pay for new vehicles for the OHP received $1.75 million in fiscal year 2011 from a fee generated by traffic citations. The fee was expected to generate $9.9 million by the end of fiscal year 2012, records show.
Brown said the increase was due to a change in law authorizing the agency to spend the funds and also to about $5 million carried over from the previous year.
Excerpts from OHP 2013 goals
Records show Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers are being judged on a formula that takes into account arrests, tickets written and contacts with the public. Troopers working in more than 20 divisions statewide are evaluated quarterly based on statistics driven by troop averages.
Here are examples of some of the evaluation formulas from northeastern Oklahoma:
Percentage of contacts resulting in ticket:
Exceeds standards: 39 percent and above
Meets standards: 30-38 percent
Needs improvement: 20-29 percent
Does not meet standards: 19 percent and below
Seat belt enforcement
Exceeds standards: 300 or more contacts
Meets standards: 150-299 contacts
Needs improvement: 100-149 contacts
Does not meet standards: 99 or below contacts
Contact per hour traffic patrol
Exceeds standards: 1.97 or more
Meets standards: 1.38 to 1.96
Needs improvement: 1.14 to 1.37
Does not meet standards: 0 to 1.13
Original Print Headline: OHP sets goals for tickets
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper waits on the highway. A report shows troopers are evaluated by the number of tickets they issue. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World file