New Jersey bills target ticket quotas, speed traps

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/19/2014

Two efforts underway at the New Jersey statehouse are intended to curb overzealous law enforcement.

New Jersey law prohibits ticketing numbers from being the “sole” factor when evaluating officer performance.

Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris/Somerset, recently introduced a bill that would close the loophole.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Red Bank, is the bill’s Assembly sponsor. He said the distinction in existing law “leaves a gaping hole that you could drive a truck through.”

“It’s a dirty little secret that some police forces are blatantly considering ticketing rates in the officer assessment process,” O’Scanlon previously stated. “Not only is that a terrible policy, it diminishes the value of all that our officers do by turning them into revenue generating machines.”

If approved by lawmakers, law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from using the volume of an officer’s arrests or citations as a factor when evaluating that officer’s overall performance.

Critics say there is no “one size fits all” standard of performance for law enforcement. Instead, police chiefs need to have the ability to establish performance measures and expectations specific to their individual agencies.

O’Scanlon said the legislation “will really allow police men and women to focus on safety and take the emphasis off writing tickets. … This is just good policy all around.”

Both bills, A3457 and S2341, are awaiting committee consideration in their originating chamber.

Another effort to curtail speed traps is also underway at the statehouse. A2922 would allow travelers to flash headlights to warn drivers about what is ahead.

Garden State law now authorizes police to issue citations to drivers who flash their lights to warn others for “improper use of multiple beam headlights.”

A bill from Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Ocean, would clarify that drivers could not be cited and fined for alerting other travelers about police or traffic hazards.

“If tickets are being issued for blinking the lights, frankly, that is an overly aggressive tactic to preserve the flow of easy money from speed traps,” Dancer stated. “The goal should be safe roads and highways, not a money-grab for municipal treasuries.”

Dancer referred to a driver in Ellisville, Mo., who was fined $1,000 for flashing his headlights to alert drivers about police stationed ahead. A federal judge later sided with the man, ruling that flashing headlights to warn drivers was protected speech.

“When you come down to it, this is a free speech issue,” Dancer said. “Common sense tells us a person should be able to look out for others and warn them of hidden dangers.”

A2922 is in the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

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