Leadership at the Tennessee Highway Patrol is disputing the existence of a trooper-alleged quota-system for making drunk-driving arrests, and now the state’s top public safety official has stepped into the fray.
THP Col. Tracy Trott, the top cop for the statewide police agency, has previously addressed the claims, and denied that officers are being pressured to write a minimum number of DUIs within a given time frame.
The Johnson City Press reported over the weekend that the state’s Homeland Security commissioner, former Shelby County prosecutor Bill Gibbons, is standing behind the THP chief.
Gibbons said he and Trott talk every day about where the state stands in regards to traffic crashes and fatalities.
“We talk about this on almost a daily basis on where we stand in the number of traffic fatalities across the state and what we’re doing with our proactive enforcement to tackle that,” Gibbons said.
“I’d point out a couple of things. Number one, our top priority in the Highway Patrol is to reduce traffic fatalities. We’re doing that through data-driven, proactive enforcement. By data-driven I mean we are using data to make sure we are deploying our road troopers in the right places at the right time based on where significant crashes and fatalities have occurred. Then we’re urging them to be proactive in enforcing our traffic laws, whether it be speeding or driving at night without lights on or whatever it is,” Gibbons said.
Put those together “it’s not surprising that we are going to have significant increases in DUI arrest, seatbelt citations, citations for other violations. That’s going to be the logical product of that, and that’s what we want,” Gibbons said…
“It’s having a positive impact. We’ve had about a 7 percent reduction in traffic fatalities in Tennessee over the last four years,” Gibbons said. “We still have a long way to go. We still have far too many traffic fatalities, but we’re moving in the right direction. I think, as Col. Trott pointed out, since 1963, three out of the four lowest years for traffic fatalities have been 2011, 2013 and 2014. We’re very pleased with the results we’re getting.”
… “Our policy is we are not going to set any quotas. Col. Trott and I consistently say that when we are visiting districts across the state and we will continue to say that,“ Gibbons said, adding that he hopes district-level supervisors would not go against that directive.
But the newspaper also reported that more disgruntled troopers are piping up, and they’re sticking to their story about the quotas.
Troopers agree they are disgruntled, but not because they’re being required to work.
Instead, they’re disgruntled “because of the pressure. He’s trying to use enforcement goals to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’ve taken our priorities away from so much else,” one trooper said. “The reality is there, whether he wants to admit it or not. I don’t know a trooper in my entire career who has let a drunk driver go,” the veteran trooper said.
He and other troopers who have come forward to express their concerns to the Press are also concerned about the future of their employment…
Retired trooper Mike Holt has been the only person willing to be identified, but said he doesn’t face the same retaliation his former colleagues face.
“When I was working, if you didn’t have a certain number of DUI arrests you were punished,” Holt said. “I worked straight evenings for four months because I didn’t,” have enough. “I was one of the ones on permanent evenings,” because of low DUI arrests, he said. “At one point I was told I could leave my sunglasses at home.”
Holt also said he was not allowed to work any type of overtime patrols — not only specific DUI enforcement but also traffic control overtime at construction sites or other opportunities that came up. And Holt said it wasn’t a situation where he wasn’t doing his job. “I was leading my troop in moving violations … it was not enough for them,” he said. “It was making me physically sick,” Holt said. That comment was echoed by numerous troopers still working for the THP.
The JCP article also includes a number of additional comments made by troopers.
The Northeast Tennessee newspaper first broke the story of a few troopers who have publicly, though anonymously, expressed dissatisfaction over “enforcement goals” for troopers to meet, including goals for driving under the influence arrests.
The Tennessee Department of Safety also issued a press release in January, in which Trott touted increased DUI and seat-belt enforcement efforts as a reason for the state’s recent decline in traffic fatalities.
According to a Dept. of Safety press release, the THP will be conducting increased visibility and traffic enforcement efforts for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.