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Palo Alto police deny ticket-quota allegations

Original post made on Aug 14, 2014

The Palo Alto Police Department is vehemently denying claims made by three anonymous officers in an NBC Bay Area report that there is strong pressure within the department to meet "unofficial" ticketing quotas, which they say has harmed public safety in the city.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, August 14, 2014, 9:30 AM

Comments (36)

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 14, 2014 at 9:57 am

In years past, the Auditor’s SEA has listed “targets” for traffic citations for the police. If memory serves, the term “citation targets” (or some such) has also been used in the yearly General Fund budget for the police department. This leads us to ask: “what’s the difference between a police “target” for citations, and a police “quota” for citations?”

If the police don’t have any intention of attempting to make their “targets” for citations (which they claim are not “quotas”)—why bother to advertise them in the budget and accomplishment documents?

Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:02 am

Of course they deny it. Now, how much time and effort will go in to trying to keep this all shut down, instead of doing police work?

Posted by al munday
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:10 am

In regards to PAPD and citiation quotas...the key word here is "unofficial"
for making quotas..I am sure there are I am sure there is race
profiling in any PD and I am not being scarcastic here. Let's face it the PD (in fact ANY PD) can do what they want at that moment and most likely just get a tap on the wrist.

Since I am a person of color I always tell my family, if I am ever in a situation with a white person either on my property or just in front of my property...if you have to call the police make sure they know that your dad is the person of know darn well that person of color will get man handled by the PD first even if they are the victim

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:20 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

This is great journalism by Vicky Nguyen, and I'll be heading over to the City Hall office to make this citizen's concerns with the allegations known, along with my expectation that they quickly and publicly address them.

I suggest others do as well.

We have a great city, but this report raises the question of whether there's a strong opportunity for improvement and better focus on the part of the police. FWIW, the issue appears to be poor oversight on the part of city administrators, a result of which is police dept leaders and officers being put in a tough situation. IMHO, Chief Burns is not to blame, and Vicky Nguyen would've done better to bark up the city administration tree rather than go for the easy police chief walking video interview.

Incentives drive behavior, so let's we the people set the goals and then make sure they're coupled with the right incentives.

Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:33 am

There sure is an overabundance of police "protection" in our neighborhood. It becomes stifling at some times. Could it be related to the proximity of new drivers near the high school and their potential for making driving mistakes?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:55 am

> Quotas in any form even informal ones are illegal in California.

Can someone explain the complexities of this issue?

What is the formal reasoning behind quotas being illegal? Is there a statement, case law, or some valid logic behind this policy.

I have heard it for years, and honestly I think banning quotas is as difficult to think out as implementing them fairly ... perhaps that is why they are banned, but that probably means the reasoning behind it is nonexistent.

When I hear this it makes me think that there is even more room for hanky-panky shenanigans going on when Police get to pick and choose who they ticket then just because the outcome is statistically "noisy" it is somehow considered better.

Posted by Dan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2014 at 11:18 am

These types of "investigations" always bother me. They have to come up with something sensational in order to make it attractive on the evening news. And I'm not saying that this is sensational at all. The police do a lot of things. The implication in the story is that by issuing tickets (which BTW is really needed on some of the speedways (sorry, expressways) around here) they aren't preventing burglaries. Our house was robbed a few years ago. There is nothing that the police could have done, that I know of, to prevent that. Now, what they CAN do is find the thief; that I would support. But remember that their budget was cut in 2012, so they had to disband the traffic force, and they told the regular cops that they had to pick up the slack. This whole thing sounds like regular cops complaining that they had to do traffic duty to me.

Posted by Alex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I was riding my bike down Bryant St (a bicycle boulevard) when one Palo Alto police office ran a stop sign taking a right turn onto Bryant, almost ran me over, then pulled me over and gave me 3 tickets.

Posted by margaret
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I have a solution. Post a patrol car on University Ave. for 3 hrs/week and quotas, if they exist, will be filled leaving the remaining 165 hrs. for other public safety issues.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Thank you to the three officers who had the courage to speak out on this. They are smart to remain anonymous because of the clear potential for payback from PAPD management.

Structural lawbreaking by the City and/or police department is something that needs to be taken very, very seriously. Entities that serve the public must answer to the public.

A thorough, independent investigation should be done. If evidence of a quota is found, those responsible for conceiving and enforcing it should be terminated, as well as anyone in a position of oversight who knew about and ignored the violation.

Perhaps more importantly, the City Council needs to eliminate any incentive for such malfeasance. Currently, the PD probably wanted to show improved "revenue generation" to give it leverage in negotiations. All city revenue from citations should be put into a pool that is out of the CC's reach, and not the general fund. This pool needs to be completely out of reach, as govt. money is fungible. For example, a pro-rata or per-household credit should appear on the first 2015 utility bill to credit back the 2014 ticket revenue. This way violators are subsiding those who obey traffic laws, which is a good thing, and the government/PD has no incentive to issue false or marginal citations.

We need to restore trust in this government. The upcoming election is a good start: we can vote in some pro-resident candidates to replace the special interest servers, but issues like this show that the need for structural reform is as large as ever.

Posted by Tony
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm

This is nothing new. PAPD officers violating department policy has been going on for years.
Web Link

Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:59 pm

This is long, and if that bothers you, then please don't read it.

I am a victim of not only quota, but financial profiling by the Palo Alto Police. My nice car broke down and was towed. That night, I needed to go to CVS midtown for a prescription for my mom, who is 81. Charged my old SUV, went to the Shell Station on Embarcadero at Middlefield, and headed out for midtown. When I made my left on Middlefield, I was pulled over. Cop claims my taillight was out. Had that checked, not true. Cop went at me for my registration being expired. It was expired by 7 days, but the sticker was the appropriate color for the month of December. Unless you ran my license plate, no way would you know it was expired. I have a busy job, was overwhelmed between taking care of mom and my work. That cop picked up on my not very Palo Alto appropriate car and followed me, using a taillight ruse to pull me over. You should have seen his face when he saw a middle aged white woman driving that piece of crap. I got a ticket.

Three days later, Christmas Eve, 3:30 pm. Same vehicle, since the other car was still at the shop. University Avenue resembled a ghost town, nobody downtown except for the block I was on. I needed to run into Shady Lane to pick up a gift that I had on hold. I had just had a back procedure, and was on a cane. I parked in that loading zone space in front of the former, and very closed, Borders. I have parked there for a quick stop in the past, using one of my two much nicer vehicles. No problem. There's a Mercedes SUV, the one that looks like a mail truck, that seems associated with Il Fornaio, that parks there ALL the time. I never see a ticket on that vehicle. So, I hobbled over to Shady Lane, picked up my purchase, and hobbled back to my crappy car. Ticket. Seriously? A ticket on Christmas Eve when most of the businesses were closed and I was there less than 5 minutes? Many cars park in that space, and I never see the parking cops do a damn thing. One unacceptable vehicle parks there, for less than five minutes, and I get a ticket. My vehicle, and as a result, I, was target by a City that is doing all it can to appease the rich. I know this to be the case because in the neighborhood I lived before, numerous people tried to call in my SUV with random, unfounded complaints, hoping it would be taken off the road. Same with my classic car before it was redone. Neighbors called that in, AND IT WAS ON MY PROPERTY. The City came out on the flimsy premise that "two wheels were off the pavement." I knew which neighbors targeted me, so I parked my car in front of their homes, one, during an open house for the sale of that home.

Bottom line, if you don't look the part, you are not welcome in Palo Alto, and the City makes certain that their various enforcement departments, get with the agenda.


Posted by Tired of the BS
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Isn't that an East Palo Alto Police car?

Posted by Dave Hoffman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 2:37 pm

These allegations seem unlikely based on my experience -- I walk, bike, run, and ride around Palo Alto every day, and don't remember the last time I saw PAPD officers doing anything other than responding to the occasional accident. They frequently used to enforce speed limits on Embarcadero, but I haven't seen speed controls in a very long time, despite widespread speeding around town.

Posted by Duh
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2014 at 2:57 pm

That is an EAST Palo Alto Police car in the picture, not PAPD. Nice editing.

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Has anyone noticed that the comments are not posting to the full length version of the story?

Read the full story here Web Link
posted Thursday, August 14, 2014, 9:30 AM

Posted by Annonymous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Our family was a victim of profiling, because one day we were in an old car. My husband is a physician, and we live in a lovely house in Old Palo Alto. Late one afternoon, several years ago, we borrowed our son's old junky car for an errand. When we got home, we parked in front of our house. A cop drove by and thought we must have been suspicious looking. Two police officers got out of the car, and each police officer stood on a side of the car. It was scary. They surrounded us. They asked for my husbands driver's license. They ran a check of his license. Of course is came back okay. The police officer came back to our car, said "thank You," and off the two officers went. There was no explanation of why they stopped us. We were stunned.

Posted by Al
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Cops are only human. and humans have been known to do some stupid things
I have had good and real bad experiences with members of the PAPD.
You never know what you are going to get from them on any given day!

The worst thing that could happen to a cop is paid desk duty so beware of consequences for being non compliant.

At least they are not shooting minorities indiscriminately here, yet.

Posted by Me
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm

I have never had anything but great interactions with PAPD. They're quick to respond, and I've never met one who was a power-tripping a-hole.

However, I'm white, male, and drive a car in decent condition.

I'm interested in seeing this investigated. If three police officers are coming forward with this, it's not isolated. Quotas are illegal because they create an incentive for people with authority to ticket citizens they otherwise wouldn't.

Informal quotas exist everywhere. Google what police themselves say. If you're not writing as many as your peers, you get informal pressure from above to step it up and write more.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" A cop drove by and thought we must have been suspicious looking."

Good policeman are trained to look for anything which is out of the ordinary so why be so upset when they do that and then politely say "Thank You"?

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 7:02 pm

The comments section seems to have gone way off track with everybody's personal story of their encounters with PAPD.

The issue at hand is whether PAPD brass are violating the law by imposing ticket quotas, and whether the ticket quotas (if any) warp PAPD law enforcement priorities. Ticket quotas (formal or informal) are against the law in California. You you and/or PAPD brass may, or may not, agree with the wisdom of that law, but the law was passed by the California legislature, and should be respected by PAPD brass, unless and until the law is overturned.

Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Wonder if anyone at the PA Police Department, or the PA City Manager's Office is aware of the outcome of this Los Angeles Sui?

LAPD to pay $10 million in traffic ticket quota controversy
Web Link

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay nearly $6 million to a group of police officers who accused their superiors of imposing a secret traffic ticket quota system on the Westside.
The settlement, approved unanimously, brings to more than $10 million the amount of taxpayer money spent on payouts and legal fees from the ticket quota cases. But that number could grow because one more officer's case is still pending.

Could be that at least three PA police officers are looking for a little extra pay in their packet one of these days ..

Posted by wondering
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:23 pm

I have had mostly really good experiences with PAPD. I have observed over the years that the City is pretty fee happy, and I would believe the CITY places pressure on PAPD.

If some of the employees are unhappy, this seems more like an organizational issue. But we have so many much more serious questionable ethics questions about City employees in this town, especially in the planning department, it's really irksome that an investigational journalism story would take this on instead of something far more important.

I'm still wondering if this is politically motivated.

Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:54 pm

> I have had mostly really good experiences with PAPD

This story is not about you, or any of us, directly. It's about the management of the Police Department. Interesting how most posters haven't figured that out.

The link below is to the NBC video segment that included the walk-and-no-talk interview of Chief Dennis Burns--

Web Link

It's pretty clear that this Chief does not believe in transparence in the police department. He, the Mayor, and the City Manager, all seem to say: "Not going to discuss this--whether there is any truth to the claims, or not!"

After the Grand Jury Report of last month--it's pretty clear that no one at City Hall cares what the public thinks.

Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:57 pm

@ Enough - you describe breaking the law, and then are surprised that you got a ticket - expired reg, parking in a commercial zone, wheels on the sideway. Get a grip. If you don't like the tickets, don't break the law.

In general, the police have a really hard job, and there are no end of folks willing to second guess them and their actions. Do a ride-a-long sometime and see how hard a job they have and you will start to appreciate what they have to deal with.

For the record, I am not a cop and are in no way associated with the City or the PAPD. I just know that from 46 years of living in PA and MP, they are professionals who literally "serve and protect".

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 11:10 pm


I am pretty sure Keene, Burns, and Shepard huddled with the city attorney, and were made very aware of the $10M LAPD settlement, before issuing the denials quoted in the PAOnline article.

Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 11:21 pm

> I am pretty sure Keene, Burns, and Shepard huddled with the city attorney,

Interesting that the NBC video segment didn't mention the LA suit, nor did the Weekly's article mention it, either.

Doesn't speak well for all concerned, methinks ..

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Long time resident,

The question here is not the professionalism of the average PAPD officer on the beat, but whether PAPD management imposed illegal ticket quotas on those beat officers.

The beat officers who exposed this illegal behavior by PAPD management are to be commended for risking their careers, to expose these illegal ticket quotas, which have a tendency to warp law enforcement priorities.

Posted by Lets Look at What's Likely Going on Here
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 15, 2014 at 12:17 am

Three officers allege the force has quotas which prevent them from patroling the neighborhoods and therefore burglaries are supposedly increasing. The officers bring forward burglary rates for 2010, 2011, and 2012 leaving out the most current years of 2013 and 2014.

Chief Burns states there arent any quotas and that burglaries are decreasing with rates of 226 in 2012, 131 in 2013, and 77 thus far in 2014. He also lists a number of efforts the department is making towards burglaries.

The police officer's union states there arent any quotas and that due to their good work burglaries are going down. The police officer's union essentially calls their own officers liars to the press (when has that ever happened).

Something doesn't add up. I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to the leadership of Chief Burns and the leadership of the POA. The fact that the three officers happen to leave out the decreasing numbers for the past two years seriously calls into question their motives and credibility. If they arent gong to give us the accurate numbers on burglaries then how can you believe anything else they say.

Sounds to me like the City officials were smart to let these three expose themselves with a false agenda and then tell the local community the whole story.

Every business has unhappy employees, it's clear the police force in Palo Alto is no different.

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 12:52 am

Lets Look,

Think about it. How would the police officers union know there are no quotas? The officers union certainly didn't do a thorough investigation in 24 hours. It is doubtful they did any investigation at all.

Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

Gosh, some of the residents which experienced "financial profiling" now have had a bad taste of what brown and black people experience, except they can't just change vehicles. Now, just imagine if your last chief would direct your public servants to profile based on the year your car was made. Understand better now why our dept has a reputation for being unfriendly to I wealthy demographic?

Our police dept has also had a rep for poor morale, but they try to keep that under wraps. Not any longer.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

>> Good policeman are trained to look for anything which is out of the ordinary so why be so upset when they do that and then politely say "Thank You"?

Finally, I agree with Peter Carpenter about something.

Seriously, I never like to get pulled over, probably because the first thing I think of is that I did something that is going to cost me money and time, and usually it is something petty. I have gotten maybe 10 tickets in my life altogether, and I don't think a one of them was for something that was endangering myself or anyone else.

Technically the majority of them I did and some of them I think are fair, but it is a different issue whether that is sensible or not. But, there were a few that I did not do ... about 3, no recourse, have to pay the ticket or go to traffic court. 30% is too high though in my opinion. But I am not dragged to some stadium and detained for a week and beaten up and my money stolen as in some countries.

BUT ... I have been pulled over at night or in the early morning fairly many times. Most of the time it is bogus reasons, like the officer said I was weaving, that's the favorite. I really never weave. Now I mount my cellphone on my dash and take video when I drive and erase it when nothing happens. The bottom line is that I am asked questions, verified and then left to continue on my way.

The thing is, I realize the officer is looking for drunk people out late at night that should not be driving. A year or so ago a drunk woman ran over a couple in East Palo Alto killing them. I am all for police trying to stop this. I don't mind if they pull me over, check me out, I support that fully. It's not fun, and it's not fun getting pulled over by a mean cop or a cop in a bad mood, but they have to do their jobs, and I am fine with that.

I am also fine with quotas, or any other system that gets cops out and doing their jobs and proves they are online and doing something. However is the best way to do that, great, do it.

I am not fine with prejudiced police, or police harassment. When I was a kid the Palo Alto police used to be jerks to us teen agers. Compared to today, our demographic was pretty tame at the time. No one had weapons, no one had anything much other than beer or pot, and no one I ever knew or heard about was committing crimes. Today ... God knows what they expect. I support the police, I want them to go their jobs, and it occurs to me that the 3 complainers may just be troublesome cops looking to find a way kick back at a job they don't really fit well in.

This is pretty much of a non-issue to me ... and I'd appreciate it if someone would explain the issue about quotas? This sounds like one of those things like where they have to let you voluntarily go through the drunk driving checkpoint. Is it silly, does it just protect certain types of people, maybe. Does it defeat the point of what the Police are supposed to be doing ... probably.

Posted by Let's Look at What's Likely Going on Here
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 15, 2014 at 7:48 am

Ahem makes the following interesting comment!

"Think about it. How would the police officers union know there are no quotas? The officers union certainly didn't do a thorough investigation in 24 hours. It is doubtful they did any investigation at all."

What makes the comment interesting is that Ahem would somehow have us believe that the Union leadership rushed to judgement on the issue of Quota's. However what he neglects to point out is that those union leaders work in the same oppressive quota driven police department as Ahem does so they would already know if they had a quota or not.

Clearly they feel the version of the Palo Alto Police Department they work in is very different than the Palo Alto Police Department you (Ahem) work in. Nothing more needs to be said.

Oh but wait, you've stopped mentioning the on-going negative impact on Residential Burglaries because you (Ahem) aren't working in the neighborhoods while your out writing tickets.

But that's okay, because in the Police Department the Union leaders "work in" has dramatically cut the burglary rates in recent years.

My sincere compliments to the members of the Palo Alto Police Department who continue to work hard for us everday, even today, while Ahem is clinging to the department he works in.

Posted by jcwconsult
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2014 at 7:54 am

If the numbers pressure did not exist, the complaints would never have happened.

Many cities have unofficial, and often illegal, ticket quota pressure. Such tactics are always wrong and officers are correct to object.

James C. Walker, Life Member - National Motorists Association

Posted by jw
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 15, 2014 at 9:54 am

But if you do not work, and someone asks you to be productive like the rest of the workers (and you become upset), you could allege an "unofficial quota." You could then go to the press after your own union sides with management (and fail to file a lucrative lawsuit since you don't have merit), and provide nothing other than a survey as proof.

Then all the online yahoos can bash the hardworking members of your local police department for whatever reason they so choose.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2014 at 11:44 pm

jw -
>> Such tactics are always wrong

OK, I'll ask again ... why?

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