Police Chief Frank Strickland strongly disagrees with the classification of the recent departmental change as a quota, referring to it instead as a performance objective.
“We want our citizens and visitors to feel confident that they’ll be safe when they drive through Griffin,” Strickland said. “If we get a reputation that if you violate the law, you’re going to get caught, that’s a good reputation to have.”
He cites the decrease in citations issued during the month of October 2007, a total of 641, compared to the figures from the same period of time one year ago, during which 1,172 citations were issued, as evidence that the performance objective was necessary. This decrease in citations, Strickland believes, is directly related to the increase in the number of accidents during October 2007, 144 altogether, as compared to October 2006, which saw 122.
Regarding this policy change, Strickland has the full support of Griffin City Manager Kenny Smith.
“I’d like to go on the record, and I’ve said this many times in the past, that as long as the chief has been here and I’ve been here, there never has been a quota system and there never will be a quota system,” Smith said.
Critics of the change disagree, saying the statistics provided for October misrepresent the efforts of the Traffic Unit officers.
“Really, my take on it is just that I thought they said they had written only about half of the tickets they did last year. I thought that should be looked at as a positive thing, that what they were doing was working,” said Larry Ballard. “They seemed to turn it into a negative thing and I didn’t like it. I don’t like that the officers have to write 20 tickets a day now.”
Ballard’s opinion is supported by that of Alvin McCullough, who said, “I don’t think it will reduce accidents. It will just give them more reason to want to pull you over. It will give them more money for the cameras at the red lights and new cars, like they’re doing now.”
McCullough went on to express concern about the opinion non-residents of Griffin will hold.
“People at work are talking about it and they said they’re afraid to come down here,” said McCullough. “People who use to come down here to visit friends are afraid to come now because they don’t want to get a ticket.”
Smith, however, views that particular concern as unnecessary, stating, “I really think the only people who have to be concerned about the enforcement of the laws are those who, perhaps even inadvertently, are prone to break those laws.”
Strickland agrees, saying, “If we’re out there doing what we’re suppose to do, the wrecks and injuries are much less likely to occur.”
Griffin Board of Commissioners member Rodney McCord holds a different view of the subject.
“I don’t want to be overly critical of the police. We’re all part of a team, but you can’t set these quotas,” said McCord. “We can’t have a quota system, we just can’t. That memo that leaked out said they have to write 20 tickets every day. There’s just no other way to look at it than as a quota. If you put a number down, what does that mean?”
Commissioner Dick Morrow also has voiced concerns regarding the change in departmental policy, referring to it as “Ticketgate.”
“Tuesday morning, at the Griffin commission workshop, I voiced my displeasure with the Police Department memo and the traffic ticket performance standards. My opinion is that any implied ticket quota -- real or implied -- is wrong,” explained Morrow. “I will say, however, that I understand the police chief’s insistence upon traffic regulation enforcement. Our vehicle accident rate in Griffin is unacceptable and lack of enforcement leads to increased accidents. As I drive throughout our city daily, it is apparent that disrespect for traffic regulations is widespread -- running red lights and speeding are common. I do expect, however, that enforcement be concentrated on accident-prone areas and other known problem locations. In effect, I believe enforcement should be proportional to the problem. The public should always believe a traffic ticket is an effort to solve a problem and never believe it is written to meet any quota or financial goal.”
The “financial goal” of which Morrow spoke also was addressed by Raymond Askins, who claimed the change was “about money. It’s what you call legal robbery -- that’s what it is. Don’t we pay enough taxes already? I think we do.”
For those in the community, like Askins, who claim an increase in city revenue is behind the new policy, Smith said, “Revenue has absolutely nothing to do with it. We don’t care if it’s a seat-belt violation with a fine of $15 or a DUI that’s $1,500,” said Smith. “If everything I’ve been accused of doing to generate revenue to pay for the Wachovia building was true, the Wachovia building would already be paid for.”
“All I want to see from my folks, from when they get up in the morning and put on that uniform, is an honest day’s work,” said Strickland. “All we want them to do is go out there and do what they’re hired to do. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve only had one fatality this year. I’d love to see no more.”