The Associated Press
YAKIMA - The state begins another aggressive seat-belt enforcement campaign this month, with law officers expected to catch at least three lawbreakers an hour to receive overtime pay.
That's the way it worked during last year's "Click It or Ticket" blitz to enforce the then-new law, which made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense, meaning officers could stop drivers for failing to buckle up.
Before, the violation could be written up only in addition to another offense.
"We're very passionate about enforcing the seat-belt law because it saves lives," said Capt. Glenn Cramer, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.
With incentives from the state Traffic Safety Commission, nearly 60 police agencies wrote 17,211 tickets during a two-month campaign last year and shared in more than $170,000 in grants. Nearly 400 officers were promised miniature replicas of their patrol cars for writing at least 40 seat-belt tickets.
But opponents of the law, which carries an $86 fine, say requiring officers to write a minimum number of tickets amounts to a quota and is poor policy.
"The police are under the gun to write as many tickets as possible," said Dan Goebel of Poulsbo, one of the promoters of proposed Initiative 836, which would repeal the law.
Many states forbid setting quotas or minimums for arrests or infractions for fear it can lead to poor quality police work that won't stand up in court.
In New Jersey, quotas for motor vehicle violations were eliminated three years ago after it was suggested there was a tendency for supervisors to punish officers who didn't meet the goals.
In Minnesota, the State Patrol may not "order, mandate, require or even suggest that a trooper issue a certain number of citations."
The Tennessee General Assembly is considering a bill this session to forbid quotas.
"Officers with quotas, in addition to everything else they have to do, tend to go for the easy citations," former Knox County sheriff's deputy David Hunter wrote in a recent newspaper column. "That's why you see them in the same spot so often with their radar guns."
In Washington, state law doesn't prohibit quotas.
Angie Ward, program manager for occupant safety at the Traffic Safety Commission, said the requirement for three tickets an hour is written into the contracts between the commission and law enforcement agencies.
The contracts determine how federal safety highway grants can be used for enforcement of seat-belt laws under the "Click It or Ticket" campaign.
Law enforcement agencies have until Monday to apply for grants from a pool of $500,000 available for overtime for seat-belt enforcement.
Ward said that without a minimum number of documented infractions, the Traffic Safety Commission wouldn't know if the overtime was properly distributed. She called the minimum more of an expectation than a quota.
"We would never take away an officer's discretion," Ward said.
The Traffic Safety Commission has never not paid overtime because someone didn't meet the minimum number of tickets, she said.
In a Washington State Patrol memorandum issued last year, troopers were told that if they didn't make the minimum, they risked being removed from the seat-belt assignment.
Cramer said requiring officers to write a minimum number of tickets is not a quota.
"It's a statement of work expectation," he said.
Lt. Jim Keightley of the State Patrol's Union Gap detachment defended the minimum.
"I think it's reasonable for the Traffic Safety Commission to say, 'We're giving you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years to go out and make an impact on traffic safety,'" he said.
"They want some bang for their buck. They don't want someone to drive around for eight hours, do nothing and get overtime."
At least here they have to stop you for another violation.
Quotas are a BS tactic and I have NO respect for any department that uses them. They are supposed to be enforcing the law, not acting as a revenue generator.
In Michigan the seat belt is a primary violation. If they can't find anything else, they can cite you for seatbelt use. If you get stopped all the LEO has to do is SAY you weren't wearing a belt when you passed him and snapped it on afterward. No evidence is required. They can pick cars at random and there's not one damn thing you can do about it. It's putting a ton of money into state coffers so I guess it's here to stay.
I'm tired of being told what's good for me by the Gov't. How 'bout you guys. Doesn't all this seat belt ticketing just take them away from their real job of protecting and serving?