Florida Highway Patrol commander behind leaked 'quota' memo retires

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 8/17/2017

Shortly after a memo was leaked from a Florida Highway Patrol troop commander that some interpreted as a ticket quota, FHP Director Col. Gene Spaulding has accepted the commander’s letter of retirement. FHP never denied that the memo referenced a quota. Rather, the department acknowledged only that quotas are not part of their operations.

Col. Spaulding accepted the retirement of Maj. Mark Welch on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 16. Welch’s retirement goes into effect Sept. 5.

“Tonight, I accepted Maj. Mark Welch’s letter of retirement from the Florida Highway Patrol,” Col. Spaulding said in a statement. “Major Welch has served Florida for more than 35 years, and I appreciate his dedication to the state of Florida and FHP’s mission of saving lives.”

There was no explanation as to why Maj. Welch was retiring. Welch’s official letter of retirement to Col. Spaulding was only one sentence: “Effective September 5, 2017, I request to retire from the Florida Highway Patrol.”

Earlier this week, a memo from Maj. Welch, Troop H commander, was leaked. The memo mentioned the SOAR initiative (Statewide Overtime Action Response) and reaching a particular citations-per-hour rate:

“We have experienced a salary increase which has also increased your overtime rate. SOAR is an enforcement initiative and the patrol wants to see two citations each hour on SOAR. This is not a quota; it is what we are asking you to do to support this important initiative because it has been proven to drive down serious bodily injury and fatal crashes. As you can see by the attached report, for the last quarter, Troop H has held its own compared to other troops at 2.5 contacts per hour. However, when you look at citations per hour, we are at 1.3 so we have a goal to reach.

Many times, it is easier to issue a warning opposed to a citation for behaviors observed. But the only way to try to alter that behavior is by impacting the motorist with the sanctions surrounding a traffic citation. As I have communicated to you repeatedly, our fatality rate is at an all-time high and we must take steps to bring it down.”

Despite explicitly mentioning the ticket increase request is not a quota, some may interpret the memo as exactly that. Florida state law prohibits traffic enforcement agencies from establishing ticket quotas. However, “quotas” is not defined in the statute. Counties and municipalities that receive more than 33 percent of annual revenue from traffic citations must submit a report to the Legislative Auditing Committee.

In a memo from Terry Rhodes, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles executive director, to Col. Spaulding, Rhodes made it clear to all executive staff and troop commanders that “quotas have no place within the Florida Highway Patrol.”

“Getting in the black and tan to patrol the roadways is expected,” Rhodes wrote in the memo. “Helping to educate and assist motorists is expected. Protecting lives is expected. Quotas are not part of our mission operationally or legally.” (Rhodes’ emphasis)

When reached for comment, FHP sent Land Line the following statement from Lt. Col. Michael Thomas:

“The FHP’s top priority is saving lives on Florida’s roadways. To achieve this, FHP conducts education and enforcement efforts aimed at curbing dangerous driving behavior. The FHP absolutely does not establish quotas for its members. However, an interaction with an FHP trooper, whether it is through a warning or citation, can undoubtedly save countless lives each year.”

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