Ticket Quota #1

The Ticket-at-Every-Crash Policy, Regardless of Probable Cause

Tampa police required a ticket at every crash investigation, regardless of whether the officer concluded probable cause existed to issue a ticket. Officers were trained that insurance companies paid the police to identify and ticket an at-fault driver (meaning who should pay damages), and supervisors enforced the policy. Then, a crash report is written, which is false when probable cause for a ticket is lacking, and is submitted as “secret” (ex parte) evidence to traffic court for the judge’s perusal only, instead of the officer attending. The report will discredit the statements of ticketed drivers, when it is false, advancing convictions, fines, fees, and auto insurance increases.

This policy was the focus of my federal lawsuit against the City of Tampa. The Tampa police trained officers that insurance companies paid the police to investigate crashes. Therefore, a ticket was required at every crash investigation to identify the “at-fault” driver (i.e., the driver who should pay damages), even in minor accidents that did not require a police investigation. As explained in a deposition, even Tampa’s Police Chief Steven Hogue believed the police were paid by insurance companies to investigate crashes. Chief Hogue said, “And I had always heard prior to becoming a little more educated on it, since Ms. Orban’s lawsuit, that it was for the police department investigating traffic accidents, something that the insurance companies needed the traffic accidents for whatever. And that was some sort of through the legislature had mandated that the insurance companies pay the cities for doing the traffic accidents. That’s what I always thought it was. I’m not sure it’s exactly that anymore.

The obvious error with the notion that the police are investigating crashes for insurance companies to identify and ticket an at-fault driver is that “fault” (who pays for damages) is inadmissible as evidence in Florida traffic courts. Instead, driving behaviors and actions are used to determine whether a driver violated a traffic law. Florida law allows officers to write tickets in crash investigations only if the officer a) has conducted a “personal investigation,” and b) has “probable cause” that a traffic law was violated. The Tampa police policy required neither a personal investigation nor “probable cause” to write a ticket in a crash investigation.

When a Tampa officer concluded probable cause did not exist to issue a ticket in a crash investigation, Tampa’s policy required the investigating officer to get permission from the supervisor to not write a ticket. The supervisor, who is typically not present at the crash investigation, then becomes the ticket decision-maker. When the supervisor orders a ticket after the officer concluded probable cause does not exist, the officer is forced to engage in fabrications and/or omissions on the ticket and crash report to justify issuing the ticket. Some Tampa officers wrote “per supervisor” on tickets ordered by supervisors when the officer did not perceive probable cause. Tampa police officers taught me how to prove the ticket-at-every-crash policy using patrol officer evaluations. On officers’ annual evaluations, the number of crashes investigated equals the number of tickets issued in crash investigations.

Tampa’s policy further violates Florida law since crash reports are submitted to court, in lieu of the officer attending the hearing, whereas Florida law bans the use of crash reports in court. When the investigating officer is subpoenaed, the police provide the crash report to the Clerk of Court, and the report is then provided to the judge for use at the hearing. However, the crash report is not entered into the record, and serves as “secret” evidence for the judge’s perusal only. The policy deviates from the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that the “accused” has the right to face-to-face testimony from a witness who is testifying against them. In Tampa, the “secret” use of crash reports, as evidence, precludes direct testimony from the investigating officer who wrote the report or from the supervisor who ordered a ticket. Further, ticketed drivers do not know the report exists or that it is being used as evidence against them in court.

When crash reports are false because probable cause was lacking, the report will contradict the driver’s statement of circumstances, increasing the likelihood of a conviction, which typically results in fines and court costs (portions of which accrue to the Clerk of Court, court, and the Tampa fine and forfeitures fund) and potentially an auto insurance increase, which leads to “extra” police pension benefits.

The use of crash reports in traffic court occurs because, in 1985, a local county traffic judge, Thomas Stringer (who is now a felon), sent a memo to law enforcement agencies stating that crash reports could be submitted in lieu of the officer appearing. Apparently, the local court, Clerk of Court, and Tampa Police Department believe a county judge has the authority to inform local officials that they need not abide by State law.

In contrast, other local law enforcement agencies do not have a ticket-at-every-crash policy. My research found that Hillsborough County sheriff deputies wrote tickets in one-third of crash investigations and the Florida Highway Patrol in one-half. Further, they did not write reports (or tickets) for minor, non-injury crashes. Following my federal lawsuit, the Tampa police ticketing policy was changed to conform with these other local agencies.