News Story

Sheriff Lieutenant Caught on Video Saying Officers Disciplined for Not Writing Enough Tickets

Michigan has law banning ticket quotas

It is against the law in Michigan for police agencies to impose a traffic ticket quota on officers. So when a Newaygo County sheriff’s deputy was caught on video telling county commissioners he would reprimand subordinates for not writing enough tickets to comply with a federal grant, motorists bristled.

“The damage this sort of abuse does to the credibility of police officers being there to 'protect and serve' is enormous,” said Jim Walker, executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation. “We have had 40 years of it, and it is time to stop. And the feds are a major offender in promoting abusive enforcement for profits, by paying for overtime enforcement grants that are often abused for revenue.”

Newaygo County Sheriff Patrick Hedlund, who has been on the job for seven weeks, said his officers were not on a quota system.

“I can’t say what happened in the 15 years before I arrived, but the deputy made a silly statement, something, from what I can tell, he made up,” Hedlund said.

The video, which can be found in a news report of The Free Thought Project, shows road patrol Lt. Chad Palmiter telling commissioners in January that while he knows ticket quotas are against the law, he is a “numbers guy” when it comes to issuing tickets. Palmiter was seeking approval to accept a grant from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

“The guys that can't perform those numbers have been removed from all overtime for that particular grant, for the remainder of the year,” he said, referring to federal grants administered through the state.

On March 2, one day after the video was uploaded to the Internet, Hedlund issued a press release stating he immediately took action after became aware of the statements on Feb. 9. He said Palmiter has been disciplined according to union rules and banned from supervising personnel under the grant program. Hedlund added that if he becomes aware of a quota system, he would call in an outside agency to conduct a criminal investigation.

Hedlund said he did inquire about practices under his predecessor, Sheriff Mike Mercer, who retired in 2014, and was assured that a quota system was not in place. He added that the department wrote 1,895 tickets in 2014, but not all tickets were moving violations.

Michigan banned ticket quotas years ago, but tickets have become an expensive annoyance for motorists who may feel they were driving safely. Motorists face at least a $100 fine. “Points” on the driver's license, which can accompany a ticket, may trigger auto insurance surcharges. Until October of 2017, drivers may also be subject to costly state “driver responsibility” fees.

While the state does not keep track of the number of speeding tickets issued, it does have a record of the assessments levied on all traffic tickets (not just speed violations) that are earmarked to a state “Justice System Fund.” According to the House Fiscal Agency, in 2011 the state collected $40.8 million dollars in assessments, which would work out to over $130 million in traffic ticket revenue.

One problem has been roads with improper speed limits, which motorists may not recognize, and thus plead guilty to tickets. A 2006 law requires government agencies to set limits based on bona fide speed studies or a formula, described in the law, based on access points.

Hedlund said he does not support speed traps, and believes Palmiter was referring to grant requirements set forth by the federal government. Agencies that receive the grant in question must make 1.29 stops per hour when patrolling for impaired driving.

Retired Trooper Thad Pederson, who has been an advocate for mandating scientifically set speed limits, remembers the federal grants well.

“While I was running Traffic Services, I was able to keep the grant performance criteria moderated to some extent so that it read 'contacts per hour' rather than stops. Patrol time does not include the time when an officer is tied up on an arrest or call, so this makes a huge difference and takes the heat off the officer from making stops simply for the sake of making stops,” he said.

Hedlund says outside of the remarks to the commissioners, Palmiter has had an “impeccable record” and has never been disciplined. Citing privacy reasons, he did not divulge what Palmiter's discipline involved.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.