Internal emails detail pressure state police troopers faced to drive up traffic ticket numbers

Published on: February 13, 2023 1:35 PM EST|Updated on: February 13, 2023 3:35 PM EST

Excerpts from a leaked email about a quota system at Maryland State Police.
Our nonprofit news organization is made possible by subscribers and donors who value storytelling that impacts and uplifts communities. Thank you for supporting our journalism.

Last year, as summer gave way to fall, a Maryland State Police barrack commander in Charles County didn’t like what he was seeing from his troopers.

The barrack’s supervisors had agreed to require at least 100 traffic stops per month, as well as a handful of arrests, from every trooper. But the La Plata Barrack commander wasn’t getting the results he wanted, and he demanded more: more traffic stops, more citations, more arrests for driving under the influence.

An excerpt from a leaked email about a quota system at Maryland State Police.

“These numbers are nowhere close to getting accomplished,” the commander said in an email reviewed by The Baltimore Banner. “Numbers are down across the state of Maryland, but some are down more than others. We need to reverse the trend.”

The email sent to the barrack’s supervisors was one of more than a dozen documents reviewed by The Baltimore Banner that raised questions about the Maryland State Police’s contention that the agency’s “expectations” system doesn’t function as a law enforcement quota.

Last week, after the Banner obtained documents detailing the quota-like system in the Princess Anne Barrack on the Eastern Shore that were sent anonymously to state Del. Robin Grammer, the agency said “work productivity is only one out of 15 performance factors and standards used to evaluate a trooper’s performance.”

An excerpt from a leaked email about a quota system at Maryland State Police.

But newly reviewed documents lay out in greater detail how the work productivity aspect of the state police’s expectations system is an ever-present measuring stick by which troopers are judged, rewarded and sometimes disciplined, in all corners of Maryland. And troopers are explicitly told just that.

In the La Plata Barrack, the commander ordered supervisors with troopers who fell below their monthly numbers to write detailed reports about why the trooper “under performed,” as well as what type of “corrective action” was taken, according to one email The Banner reviewed. That policy was put into place in the fall last year.

An excerpt from a leaked email about a quota system at Maryland State Police.

Other emails and memoranda sent between commanders, supervisors and troopers reviewed by The Banner further illuminate a policing philosophy that experts described as detrimental to, and at odds with, public safety.

Michael Scott, the director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at Arizona State University and a former police chief, reviewed some of the emails and memos. He said they outline a contradictory and flawed approach to law enforcement.

On the one hand, memos sent to troopers contained helpful language about solving traffic problems, Scott said. But that guidance is betrayed by an over-reliance on enforcement metrics, such as the number of traffic stops or driving-under-the-influence arrests, as a way to grade a trooper’s performance.

Evaluating troopers on the number of DUI arrests and traffic stops they make will incentivize more of those stops but do nothing to increase public safety, Scott said. Using the example of drunk driving, Scott said police departments should instead be emphasizing tangible public safety goals, such as driving down the number of traffic fatalities or alcohol-related crashes on a stretch of road.

Sign Up for Alerts
Get notified of need-to-know
info from The Banner

“Inevitably, counting stops and arrests has this distorting effect that creates incentives for officers and troopers to take enforcement action in circumstances in which they otherwise would not do it,” Scott said. “And that just is not fair to the public.”

In some emails reviewed by the Banner, supervisors emailed troopers to demand a specific number of traffic stops over a period of just two nights in order to meet monthly targets. In another, a supervisor lashed out at troopers by threatening to mandate a certain number of traffic stops per day. The Banner is not publishing or directly quoting those emails in order to protect the identity of its sources.

The documents, which span seven different State Police barracks, as well as interviews with former and current state troopers, underscore the weight troopers feel under the “expectations” system. They also show that the practice is not contained to the Eastern Shore.

In one email, sent to the North East Barrack in Cecil County, a supervisor instructs troopers that it is “worth repeating, leading a category does not necessarily make one a better trooper.”

“However, unless/until they come up with a better way to measure police work this will continue to be the way we’re all looked at,” the supervisor said.

In interviews with former and active troopers, The Banner learned more details about the state police “points system,” which functions at least in some barracks by assigning numerical values to events like DUI arrests (60 points) and traffic stops (10 points). An earlier email leaked to a state lawmaker showed one barrack using a points-based system to determine which troopers would get new vehicles.

An excerpt from a leaked email about a quota system at Maryland State Police.

One trooper, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the record, described the Maryland State Police as “the most stat-driven agency I have ever worked for.”

In response to a series of questions about the expectations system and how it is implemented across the state, the Maryland State Police issued a brief statement.

“In accordance with state protocols and with Maryland State Police policy, supervisors who choose to provide troopers with performance expectations may use average figures, ranges of numbers, or approximations to assess reasonable levels of performance across a number of factors — like any other job.

“We are accountable to the citizens we serve for our level of criminal and traffic enforcement across the state,” the agency said.

An excerpt from a leaked email about a quota system at Maryland State Police.

David Jaros, a criminal law professor at the University of Baltimore who also reviewed emails and memoranda shared by The Banner, said the emails provide a demonstrable example of how some law enforcement agencies are willing to defy and disregard attempts to reform their practices.

The Maryland General Assembly heavily restricted law enforcement quotas in 2006, though state Del. Grammer has introduced legislation that was debated last week that would tighten the ban.

“If we can’t legislatively control the police when it comes to quotas for tickets, what does it say about our other efforts to regulate the police?” Jaros said. “I actually think it’s extraordinarily significant and important because it speaks to a much larger issue about government oversight of the police.”

Though the emails lay out the quota-like aspect of the state police expectations system in detail, references to the practice crept into public view several months ago.

Michal Shinnar, a Greenbelt-based labor attorney, filed a class action complaint late last year on behalf of Maryland state troopers alleging racial discrimination. Shinnar said her clients could testify to how the expectations functioned like a quota, and added that they penalties were harsher for troopers who are Black or Hispanic.

Traffic stop metrics and other expectation measures formed the basis for why one of her clients, Analisse Diaz, was terminated by the Maryland State Police, Shinnar said.

“It’s the criterion they used to fire her,” Shinnar said. “The real reasons are the discrimination issues, but the fact that they used this as a reason to terminate [Diaz] is an example of this being very much in place. And it’s something that if troopers don’t follow and meet, they can risk losing their employment, and it will be considered a legitimate reason to fire them.”

Scott, the former police chief and policing expert, said that quotas are an all too common part of policing, driven by political pressures over generating revenue that he himself has faced. When he oversaw a Florida department, Scott said he had to write explicit policies for officers, telling them they should always exercise discretion.

“I was not going to put pressure on my officers in any way to undertake a certain level of enforcement on anything,” Scott said. “That I just considered to be inappropriate. I wanted the officers using their own discretionary judgment.”