Montana patrol skirts quota law with 'performance objectives'

| 7/8/2005

So what’s a highway patrol to do when the state legislature says they can’t use quotas? In Montana, they rename the quotas “performance objectives.”

During this year’s legislative session, the Montana Legislature and governor approved SB264, which specifically prohibits law enforcement agencies from requiring quotas for their officers.

However, Lynn Solomon, public information officer with the Montana Department of Justice, confirmed Friday, July 8, that the Highway Patrol is operating under a new directive that asks its officers to stop at least one vehicle per non-obligated hour – those time periods when they are patrol officers and not committed to other activities, such as filling out crash reports, training or speaking at a school.

“For starters, let’s not call it a requirement,” Solomon said. “What they’re trying to do is have some sort of performance objective, some sort of tool where they can measure productivity.”

Solomon said the “performance objective” is not in the officers’ handbooks or a part of public policy. But those who continually fail to meet the “objective” could see repercussions.

“It’s not a matter of ‘go out and get this many tickets or you’re fired,’ ” she said, but then added, “it might be a topic that could come up on your performance evaluation.”

Solomon said the “performance objective” came after a report from the legislative auditor’s office, which said the law enforcement agency needed more officers on patrol to meet the state’s needs. The report said the best solution was to put as many existing officers – of all ranks – back on the roads.

“Let’s say you have a highway patrol officer out there who writes two tickets a year – how can they get that person to do more?” she said. “We needed more of a presence on the road, and that included sergeants.”

Solomon said the added “performance objective” for one stop per hour won’t have a negative impact on drivers.

“They’re not tickets, they’re just stops,” Solomon said. “The flipside is, if you’re not breaking the law – if you’re not speeding, you won’t get pulled over for speeding.”

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer