TALLAHASSEE — Moving swiftly to tamp down a growing furor in the media and with the motoring public, state highway safety chief Terry Rhodes issued a memorandum late Thursday night to the top brass at the Florida Highway Patrol.
Her message was blunt and unambiguous: "Quotas have no place within the Florida Highway Patrol."
Rhodes responded to the Times/Herald's coverage of an internal email coverage of an internal email that FHP Maj. Mark Welch sent to troopers in an eight-county region around Tallahassee, telling them that now that they have received a 5 percent raise, they need to write two tickets an hour while on an overtime traffic enforcement program. The troopers who got the order are in charge of patrolling a nearly 100-mile stretch of Interstate 10 from Madison County west to Gadsden County — a haven for speeders.
Welch's July 28 memo created much social media chatter, led some local TV newscasts and prompted a warning from a key legislator, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that ticket quotas are illegal under state law. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, wrote a letter to the Department of Highway Safety that also called Welch's directive to troopers illegal.
"The email from Maj. Welch disturbingly equates increased citations as 'the only way to alter that behavior,' which is patently false," Clemens wrote Thursday. "I would appreciate a clarification on these issues, a public repudiation of the memo on your part, and an affirmation that the Florida Highway Patrol's goal is to encourage the safe flow of traffic, rather than generate citations that statistically have little effect on behavior."
"By now," Rhodes wrote, "I know you will have seen the media stories and press statements that have been released regarding an email asking that two citations be written every hour while troopers work overtime enforcement duty. Let me be very clear: Quotas have no place within the Florida Highway Patrol.
"Getting in the black and tan to patrol the roadways is expected. Helping to educate and assist motorists is expected. Protecting lives is expected. Quotas are not part of our mission operationally or legally," Rhodes wrote. "It is more important than ever before that FHP be proactive in their efforts, but members should never be encouraged to meet specific citation numbers. I am directing you to ensure that no quotas are being issued from our troops and that no performance metrics are impacted by a quota."
Rhodes reports to Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members, who want no part of a controversy involving allegations of ticket quotas. By coincidence, Rhodes is slated to appear before the four officials next Wednesday at a Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee to make a pitch for a 10 percent pay raise for state troopers in next year's budget.
Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] Follow @stevebousquet.