NJSPBA’s relentless effort leads to governor singing bill to prohibit ticket quotas
When NJSPBA Executive Vice President Marc Kovar walked a beat as a patrol officer in Passaic, he heard from supervisors about the need to write enough tickets each month. Because he was on foot and working nights, his response resulted in writing parking tickets.
Many PBA members have felt this “pressure” to generate tickets and summonses that boost municipal coffers. And many times, these tickets wind up being written for citizens who can’t afford them. To exacerbate the situation, parking tickets turn into “failure to appear” charges. Those escalate to license suspensions. License suspensions turn into $500 tickets and loss of license, and it seems to hit the people who can’t afford any of this the hardest.
For 20 years, the state PBA has worked diligently to keep towns and chiefs from imposing ticket quotas that compel officers to meet a standard number of tickets and summonses. These “ticket quotas” became a way for law enforcement agencies to use the number of arrests and citations issued by an officer to evaluate job performance and even impose discipline.
But as of Oct. 7, it is no longer possible or even legal for agencies to impose ticket quotas. With Kovar, PBA President Pat Colligan and PBA Director of Government Affairs Rob Nixon joining him in his office, Governor Murphy signed bill S1322 into law that marks another battle the union has won to give members fair and protected working conditions.
According to the letter of the law, state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies are banned from establishing arrest and citation quotas or using the data when evaluating the performance of a law enforcement officer. They also cannot be used as a criterion for promotion, demotion, dismissal, discipline or the earning of any benefit provided by the department or force.
“It’s going to relieve the pressure that some people have felt about being under the gun and trying to meet some artificial standard that can move based on the whim of a supervisor,” Nixon explained. “It’s also going to free them up to be able to just do their job without this threatening their standing within the department. It also sends a message to towns that cops are not revenue raisers, they not tax collectors and writing tickets to people is pretty poor way to manage a municipal budget.”
In a Twitter post the day he signed the bill, the governor expressed how proud he was to have this law. And he also cited another impact, all those involved in writing the bill, sponsoring and lobbying for it intended by posting, “helping boost trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
“We had a lot of people lobbying against it, but it passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly and the Senate,” Colligan noted. “Because at the end of the day, this is truly a social justice bill.”
In his post-mortem, Nixon surmised that the new law can improve the public’s trust in law enforcement because it will help dispel the belief that law enforcement officers are required to ratchet up their need to write tickets at the end of the month. And why would the public not believe it if municipal governments see it as a way to raise revenue.
And some do. They see it as their only way to increase revenue in this age of the 2-percent cap on tax increases. So meeting those demands enabled supervisors to justify ticket quotas they used for performance evaluations.
But the governor on down to a State Senate that voted 25-1 to pass the bill determined that those tickets were being written under perhaps questionable circumstances. Colligan remarked that it became so egregious that members told him of a town where if drivers cut a turning lane by five feet, they were getting a ticket.
“So we argued what could more appropriately be related to police reform than killing this demon once and for all,” Nixon added. “Kind of the pinnacle of the discussion was that we were going to talk about police reform and rebuilding the relationships between the police and the community.”
Approximately 20 years ago, Nixon wrote a bill the PBA put forth that presumably had killed the demon. But there was a loophole that allowed chiefs to examine tickets as part of performance if they were evaluating an officers’ performance.
“We found some towns and some rather unscrupulous supervisors were using the tickets as an undefined quota by saying, ‘Well, here’s our standard and if you don’t meet our standard, you’re at risk for not getting promoted, not getting meal breaks or getting the bad or unpreferable assignments,” Nixon detailed. “The more we investigated this with our Locals, the more we found we had these unspoken ticket quotas undermining the law we wrote all those years ago.”
Approximately 10 years ago, the PBA began working to close the loophole with a new law. But that was also when the state was in the thick of the Christie administration pushing through legislation that hurt PBA members’ benefits and their collective bargaining rights. He was trying to take away the pension, too. So there were bigger battles to fight.
In the past couple of years, the PBA presented a new bill to close the quota loophole and finally things clicked in 2020. The bill had bi-partisan sponsorship with Senators Dawn Addiego (D-District 8) and Shirley Turner (R-District 15) and Assemblymen Hal Wirths (R-District 24) and Adam Taliaferro (D-District 3) and unquestioned support from both sides of the aisle.
“There are much more effective performance measurements like decision-making abilities and work ethic,” Wirths submitted. “This law allows our dedicated law enforcement officers to focus on protecting and serving the public.”
Nixon shared that a major tipping point to generate legislative and public support came when he was listening to New Jersey 101.5 and heard talk about the issue. He called in and was basically given an open microphone to explain why the law was so horrible.
“Then, I had buy-in for the sponsors,” he continued. “The media was on board. The legislature was on board. It fit perfectly into the themes of police reform and social justice. And I think there was recognition from the governor about the fact that the PBA went out of its way to really fight for something that matters.”
As recognition of the bill’s importance, the governor invited the PBA and Senator Turner tohis private office for the bill signing. As is the tradition at these historical moments, the governor uses a series of pens to sign the bill and gives them to stakeholder. Colligan, Kovar and Nixon each walked away with a pen.
The writing had been on the wall for this one a long time, which made this moment in the governor’s office that much better.
“It’s so gratifying knowing all it takes to get the governor’s signature on that piece of paper and fulfill all our hard work,” Nixon observed. “And at the end of the day we removed a threat or a veil of a threat and allow our members to do their jobs.”