Cuyahoga Falls is at it again.
After an extended period of sanity, the city is hell-bent on re-establishing its reputation as “Ticket City.”
Police Chief Tom Pozza said last week he is offering lucrative overtime shifts to officers who agree to write at least three tickets per hour during those shifts.
In other words, they have a quota. Period.
Falls Mayor Don Robart is fully on board with this philosophy, saying a massive police presence on the streets of his city discourages crime.
What that policy mostly does is foster an “Us Against Them” mentality among the general public. Regular folks who in every other aspect of their lives are fully supportive of law enforcement begin to view squad cars as the enemy.
Although the long-term impact of that is impossible to measure, it also is impossible to ignore.
Ticket quotas are not illegal in Ohio, but they are outlawed in a number of other states, including Michigan, for good reason: Requiring police officers to write a certain number of tickets is not in the best interests of either the citizens or the officers.
Ticket-writing fanaticism certainly isn’t synonymous with good policing. Good police work includes frequent nonthreatening interaction with the public, where cops can build trust and cultivate potential sources.
At least one area police chief agrees with me.
David Oliver runs the department in Brimfield Township, where the citation rate per traffic stop averages about 7 percent a year.
During his decade as chief, Oliver has made clear to his officers that he doesn’t want them to ticket everything that moves.
“We’re looking for criminals, not so much speeders,” he says. “That’s just how we operate.”
During the month of April, Brimfield cops made a hefty 406 traffic stops but wrote a mere 59 tickets.
“I’m not trying to disrespect what [Pozza is] doing and what the state [Highway Patrol] likes to be done with traffic enforcement,” Oliver says. “Heavy traffic enforcement and police presence do slow people down.
“But my philosophy here is that we can have a good, solid presence, we can slow people down and we can take some time to talk to them.”
Oliver’s approach is based on the big picture.
“What we’re trying to do is show that all of us — the cops, the ironworkers, the teachers — everybody gets up in the morning, we put our pants on and we all perform different roles in society. We’ve got to work as a team. And you don’t feel much like a team member when I’m handing you a piece of paper that’s gonna cost you 180 bucks.”
Oliver tells his officers he wants them to make at least two traffic stops per eight-hour shift but couldn’t care less whether they write any tickets.
Rather than emphasize traffic enforcement, Oliver sends all of his troops to special criminal interdiction training, which involves such things as roadside interview techniques, recognizing signs of criminal activity and evidence collection and processing.
To be sure, Brimfield is a considerably smaller place than Cuyahoga Falls, with a considerably smaller police force. But in terms of safety, Oliver can make an apples-to-apples comparison: The township’s traffic fatality rate during his tenure isn’t one iota higher than it was when his predecessors were piling up the speeding tickets.
“I think it boils down to this,” he says. “There are good people who drive a little fast. You’ve done it; I’ve done it. I just think that it’s an opportunity for an officer to talk to [drivers] about crashes and stopping distances.”
Although it’s not easy to draw a traffic ticket in Brimfield, your odds increase dramatically if you’ve already received a warning.
Along with Stow, Tallmadge and others, Brimfield is part of an electronic records system called iLinc. Any time a driver is stopped, that information goes into a database — even if no ticket is handed out.
So you can’t say the Brimfield PD is a pushover. What you can say is that the Brimfield PD is reasonable.
By contrast, Cuyahoga Falls once again has turned its streets into bottomless ATMs, particularly state Route 8.
The Falls PD is providing a textbook example of how to best interrupt traffic flow on a limited-access highway. Unleash a gaggle of squad cars and half the drivers start jamming on their brakes — even if they’re doing the speed limit. A bunch of others will swerve into another lane, trying to avoid detection or trying to avoid getting a ticket for failing to get out of the lane adjacent to a pulled-over police car.
I have no doubt the Falls will get its wish. But maybe the city should have been more careful what it wished for.
Says Brimfield’s Oliver, “We try to foster a relationship so it works both ways: If the public needs us, they have to know we’re there without question. And there are times when police need the public. I can’t have the public in the back of their mind saying, ‘These guys are jerks. I’m not helping them.’ ”
Another long-term repercussion is in play as well. Folks from surrounding communities begin to factor the phrase “Ticket City” into their decisions about whether or not to patronize a Falls restaurant, or a Falls shopping area, or Rockin’ on the River, or any other optional activity that brings money into the town.
Perhaps the city figures it can make up the entire difference in mayor’s court.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.