Opponent charges Bloomfield police chief with using ticket quota system

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen says Bloomfield's chief of police appears to enforce a ticket quota, and two former officers of that police department say that's exactly what it is.

"Ten-thousand tickets a year sounds like a quota, doesn't it?" said Christesen, who is running for reelection against Bloomfield Police Chief Mike Kovacs.

Kovacs said the system Christesen was referring to is not a quota system and does not require his officers to write 10,000 tickets each year. He said the charge is politically motivated.

People in both camps have criticized quota systems for denying law enforcement officers the discretion they need to achieve the best outcomes in their communities.

In a July 11, 2011, Bloomfield Police Department personnel memorandum anonymously provided to The Daily Times, an unidentified sergeant is reprimanded for the department's failure to "produce 10,000 citations per annum."

"I think it's pretty clear when you set a standard number of tickets per year," Christesen said.

Kovacs, who said he has known of the memo since it was written, denies the allegation.

"This looks directly retaliatory," he said, "but I'll leave it up to the readers."

The allegation comes about a week after a Daily Times story that included comments criticizing Christesen's point system. In the article, Kovacs and a former Sheriff's Office sergeant, Nic Bloomfield, said Christesen's point system was really a quota, which Christesen denies.

Also in the race for sheriff is Daniel Goldberg, owner of the New Mexico Fugitive Apprehension Bureau, which is not a state agency.

Goldberg said a quota system inherently causes corruption because officers are inclined to write tickets solely to meet the demand. He said the point system Christesen calls "work standards" is a quota but Goldberg said he didn't know enough about Kovacs' standards to comment on them.

The primary elections are June 3, and there are no Democratic candidates, which means the winner will be the new sheriff.

Joe Templeton, a former Bloomfield Police Department sergeant who served from 2005 to 2011, said he received a nearly identical memo also dated July 11, 2011. Barbara Villa, a Bloomfield police officer from 2002 to 2009, did not receive the document, as she wasn't a supervisor, but she said it was clear that Kovacs had a quota.

The memo states that the "chief's mandate" always has been that traffic enforcement is an important part of the station's crime control and prevention philosophy.

"To that goal he has required that the department produce 10,000 citations per annum. As a 1st line supervisor, you have been made aware of this expectation at every opportunity," the sergeant receiving the memo was informed. "This department has failed to produce the required number of citations and you have been instructed repeatedly to correct this."

Kovacs said he didn't write the memo and that the "citations" mentioned should have been referred to as "contacts."

A Bloomfield Police Department lieutenant's name was on the "from" line in the memo provided to The Daily Times with what appears to be his signature at the end. Kovacs name did not appear in the document.

When asked if another memo had been written with the new language, he said the number was only a "department goal."

"The difference between a goal and a quota system is (that with a goal) officers aren't required to write a certain amount of anything per day," he said.

His officers have the discretion to write warnings or tickets, and in only one year was the department's goal met, he said. According to department records, 10,349 citations were written in 2011. He said about 7,000 of those citations were warnings.

"The goal was to make contacts in the city," he said.

Villa said her supervising sergeant told her all contacts during her shifts were to be citations — speeding tickets, tickets for not wearing a seatbelt, tickets for an unrestrained child — and all those tickets had to either refer its recipient to court or to pay a fine.

"We were told we needed to get tickets, and warnings didn't count," she said, adding that the directive was issued as soon as Kovacs became chief in 2009.

Kovacs said he does not know what Villa was told, but he said he never told her that. He added that no supervisors were instructed to tell officers to write only tickets.

Templeton said that in 2010 or 2011 a senior Bloomfield Police Department officer told him and three other sergeants that 80 percent of the 10,000 citations per year needed to refer recipients to court or to pay a ticket. And that 20 percent could be warnings.

Templeton said those sergeants have since been demoted because they protested the quota system. But Kovacs said no officers were penalized, demoted, fired or suffered any loss of pay or days of work for failing to meet the goal — they only received the memo about correcting the problem, which remains on file for a year.

A quota system removes an officer's discretion, Templeton said, encouraging them to search for minor violations and "stretch the truth a little bit" to meet the quota. He said Christesen's standards are not a quota, and, when he served as a deputy he was allowed to use his discretion.

" sounds like (Templeton) doesn't care much for me," Kovacs said. He is "probably in Ken's camp."

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.