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FHP trooper says he was fired for not writing enough tickets

Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Ryan Burchnell was critical of Trooper Christopher Maul in reviewing Maul’s work. Maul disputes the assessments, saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Ryan Burchnell was critical of Trooper Christopher Maul in reviewing Maul’s work. Maul disputes the assessments, saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

LARGO — For drivers, it's a perennial cause for suspicion: Do police have a ticket quota? Are state troopers targeting speeders to meet that number?

The Florida Highway Patrol says absolutely not — ticket quotas are against policy.

But a former trooper based in Pinellas County says that's not true. Christopher Maul, who spent 12 years with the FHP, says he was fired in June for not writing enough tickets.

"The only reason I can see why I was fired was I didn't write enough tickets," said Maul, 38, who lives in Largo.

The FHP disputes that, saying Maul was fired for failing to meet performance standards. How many tickets a trooper writes is merely used to measure productivity, as is how much they assist motorists and work accidents, said Col. John Czernis, director of the Florida Highway Patrol.

Ticket quotas violate FHP policy, Czernis said.

"The bottom line is, there is no need for a quota system because there are all kinds of violations out there all day and night,'' he said.

But the number of tickets Maul wrote was frequently cited in a lengthy June memo laying out the case for his dismissal. Maul was four months short of completing a mandatory probation after leaving briefly for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and returning to the FHP.

Maul received a positive review earlier in June from his immediate supervisor. Later, an FHP major told Maul he was rescinding the evaluation because it did not "accurately reflect" his performance.

Maj. Ryan Burchnell noted that Maul wrote "only 63 citations, 22 warnings and eight faulty equipment notices while working 56 traffic crashes." And he wrote only 16 citations in December, Burchnell noted.

Maul, who said he didn't have radar in his police car for part of that period, improved his numbers as the months wore on, from 33 in January to 53 in April. Not good enough, Burchnell concluded: "Trooper Maul's citation-issuance has been substandard."

A captain for the area Maul patrolled sent Burchnell an e-mail saying that Maul's supervisors believe he has "a good work ethic.'' Burchnell was not swayed and demanded a new evaluation.

The head of the union representing troopers said the FHP is using Maul to set an example for other troopers.

"Chris was an easy kill," said Bill Smith, who heads the Police Benevolent Association FHP Chapter. "Because he was on probation, they picked on him. It's too hard and takes too much effort to get somebody else not on probation."

The FHP says that doesn't prove there's a ticket quota.

• • •

Maul spent 12 years with the FHP before leaving for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in January 2008. He was laid off a few months later because of budget cuts. He was offered a job with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office but took a $37,000-a-year trooper job with the FHP in October to be closer to his Largo home and familiar colleagues in Pinellas.

"They didn't have to take him back," said Frank Burke, of the troopers union. "If they didn't want him back, why take him?"

During his probation, Maul's immediate supervisor, Sgt. Raymond Ada, concluded that Maul was meeting or exceeding expectations.

Capt. Robert French scrawled "keep up the good work'' on a February review that read: "Trooper Maul is a good trooper with a lot of experience. I do not foresee him having any difficulty in completing his probationary period."

Burchnell disagreed and set about to change Maul's evaluations.

In an e-mail exchange, Burchnell told Capt. Urana Harris: "I am going to hold the supervisors accountable, which means you.'' He added that Maul "is not cutting it."

Burchnell told Harris to submit another evaluation "when you know I will accept it."

In a June 9 memo, Harris said she discussed with Maul the rescinding of the positive evaluation and his job performance, specifically his possible misrepresentation of how he logged the hours of his daily activities and his efforts in "proactive law enforcement."

Maul says Harris stressed his ticket-writing activities. In response, he wrote 12 speeding citations, two seat-belt violations and two warnings in the next five days before taking a scheduled leave.

Maul was fired June 23. In a letter explaining the termination, Burchnell contended that Maul's first stint with the FHP was sub-standard and that he should not have been rehired.

But Maul's personnel file is filled with positive performance evaluations.

There were some complaints about small errors in accident reports, but also letters of thanks from families of accident victims with whom Maul had interacted.

He met expectations in conduct, approach and professionalism, and was noted for his high number of DUI arrests. He got a similar review on May 18, and was said to be exceeding expectations in some areas.

But his final review — the one ordered by Burchnell — showed he was not meeting expectations.

"What they've done is created pressure for tickets," said Smith, the union official. "You put enough pressure on people and it'll work."

• • •

Allegations of quotas for law enforcement are not new.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation revealed a push for more citations in the Pennsylvania State Police in 2002.

Michael Hennessy, a 22-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in Broward County in October, claiming he was being retaliated against for revealing a quota for arrests and citations within the force. The case has not gone to trial.

Burke and Smith have another issue with the way Maul was fired.

They contend the FHP broke a state Department of Management Services rule that forbids performance evaluations from being "changed by a higher level authority.''

Burchnell could not be reached for comment. Czernis declined to specifically address Maul's work history or dismissal, but repeatedly stressed trooper work ethic in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.

"You expect an honest day's work at the pay you've agreed upon," Czernis said. "The big difference in our job is, if we don't do our job, people die, and that's the whole crux of the whole thing."

Maul, unemployed and engaged to be married, says getting fired doesn't make finding a job any easier. But he doesn't really want a different job.

"I want them to hire me back," Maul said. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Brant James can be reached at brant@sptimes.com or 727-893-8804.

FHP trooper says he was fired for not writing enough tickets 08/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 11:15am]
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