Monday, December 18, 2017
Politics

FHP chief vows, again, that ticket quotas are prohibited

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's top highway safety official said Wednesday that state troopers will be reminded that ticket quotas are illegal, as the job status of an official who called for quotas remains "under review."

Terry Rhodes, executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, told Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members that quotas have "never, ever" been used to reward or punish troopers.

"We will immediately designate that quotas are prohibited by Florida law," Rhodes told her four bosses. "You have my commitment here today that no quotas will be tolerated in the Florida Highway Patrol."

Previous Coverage: Did FHP break the law in setting goals for speeding tickets?

Rhodes added that FHP's policy manual will be revised to make it clear that quotas are illegal and that online training seminars will include the prohibition. She said troopers work "tireless and selflessly" to make the state safer.

Rhodes was responding to a July 28 email written by Highway Patrol Maj. Mark Welch to troopers in an eight-county region surrounding Tallahassee that was obtained by the Times/Herald.

"The patrol wants to see two citations each hour," Welch wrote, referring to an overtime program in which troopers earn extra money by providing more visibility in high-traffic areas. "This is not a quota; it is what we are asking you to do to support this important initiative."

Col. Gene Spaulding, who runs the patrol, disavowed Welch's email and said the major's job status is "under review."

Spaulding said state troopers have never been rewarded "for strictly writing citations."

In two cases, Miami-Dade troopers were allowed by their superiors to switch their days off to more desirable weekends for writing the most citations in their unit, according to internal emails obtained by the Times/Herald.

"That was not for citations," Spaulding said. "That was for overall monthly performance."

In Welch's email, the major also told troopers that tickets are more effective than warnings in getting drivers to slow down.

"That's absolutely wrong," Spaulding told reporters.

After Welch's email went public, FHP Lt. Col. Mike Thomas, the agency's No. 2 official, downplayed its significance, calling it "a want."

The union that represents troopers has called on Spaulding to take disciplinary action against Welch.

Rhodes' appearance at a Cabinet meeting came on a day when she made a pitch for a 10 percent raise for state troopers next year, boosting their starting salary to $42,000 a year. The raise already has a lot of momentum behind it with a strong endorsement from Scott, who will enter his last year as governor in 2018.

The pay raise is even more likely to win legislative support in an election year when most politicians want to be seen as pro-public safety.

Scott did not address the quota issue publicly, but Cabinet members voiced strong support for Rhodes.

Attorney General Pam Bondi called Welch's email a "stupid statement." Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, reiterated confidence in Rhodes.

The Cabinet's newest member, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, recalled getting a speeding ticket from a trooper a couple of years ago.

"I think you write plenty of tickets," Patronis said.

Rhodes may have done some damage control in time to save the pitch by declaring that there is no quota.

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