There's never a peaceful day for the California Highway Patrol -- and apparently, there never can be. Why? Even if every motorist in California suddenly decided to follow every traffic law, CHP officers would still ticket and arrest them. That's because at least some are under immense pressure to arrest at least 100 lawbreakers every single month.
The idea of setting law enforcement quotas strikes us grotesque because it undermines the fundamental concept of democratic self-government. While we do want police to keep a vigilant eye out for criminals, we don't want them to treat us all like suspects. In any encounter with police, we expect them to respect our constitutional rights. Yes, we expect them to pull us over if we're breaking the law, but it's unseemly for law enforcement to assume we are.
In fact, arrest quotas are illegal under California Vehicle Code 41602. According to evidence in a recent federal civil rights case, however, CHP area supervisors enforce them anyway.
Are there always at least 100 law breakers in every CHP patrol area?
The case involves a 76-year-old Navy vet who was pulled over in Sacramento one Tuesday morning in August 2013. He was initially stopped for driving too slowly and drifting between lanes. The officer suspected he was DUI, but the vet passed a Breathalyzer test. Then, even though balance issues from the stroke made it impossible for the vet to pass, the trooper insisted on performing field sobriety tests.
Although the vet had no tickets or accidents on his driving record, the trooper arrested him anyway, suspecting drugs. The vet explained that he couldn't balance or walk in handcuffs, again because of the stroke. He resisted being handcuffed and, according to his complaint, the officer punched him in the stomach and swept his feet out from under him. The vet was later cleared.
When the issue of quotas came up at trial, the federal judge was not at all convinced by the CHP's denials.
"You can see from the evaluations that the CHP certainly has a quota," he said. "The quota is 100 a month, even if they don't encounter 100 people who are doing something wrong."
Was this policy only in place in Sacramento? Don't bet on it. If you think your traffic stop may have been motivated by an officer's quota, you should call a lawyer right away.