4 more troopers come forward about DUI quota system

Becky Campbell • Mar 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Four more Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers — including one recently retired and a supervisor — said the allegations of a DUI arrest quota system in the department are absolutely true, and they dispute the agency administration’s denial.

Other troopers are afraid to speak up, they say, for fear of retaliation by those same THP administrators. A total of six troopers from all across the state have spoken to the Press on the condition of anonymity.

Allegations of a DUI arrest quota came to light Feb. 25 when a Johnson City attorney, Don Spurrell, filed a motion asking for an evidentiary hearing in a DUI case. He wants to show the THP has a quota system that could lead to bad arrests by troopers trying to reach their requirements. The motion he filed included an email dated Dec. 17, 2014, from Lt. Traci Barrett to her troop in the Fall Branch district.

The email addresses what Barrett called “enforcement goals” for each officer and the district and encouraged troopers to help their colleagues who fall behind. THP Col. Tracy Trott adamantly denied the allegation that the department demands a quota of arrests from its troopers.

His agency is simply focused on “saving as many lives as possible,” Trott said in a phone interview Feb. 27. “We don’t have a quota on any type of arrests, DUI, speeding or otherwise,” Trott said. “There’s no unwritten policy.”

Fall Branch district Capt. Steve Street also said the same thing — there are no arrest quotas placed on troopers.

Since the publication of that information a week ago, several state troopers have voiced opinions differing from what the THP says about the issue.

The THP supervisor, who agreed to talk about the issue on the condition of anonymity, said morale in the department is low because of the constant pressure and demand for DUI arrests and seatbelt violation citations.

The trooper isn’t opposed to doing the job assigned but said the administration has de-emphasized many of the duties the Highway Patrol has traditionally performed. And the areas patrolled have moved to more populated areas, and inside city limits, of their districts as opposed to working Interstate highways, the trooper said.

Former trooper Mike Holt, who retired in August after 28 years with the THP, said he doesn’t fear the retribution of superiors because he no longer works for the department. He, as well as the other troopers who spoke anonymously, said he was glad someone was finally asking questions, but was not surprised THP administrators denied the allegations.

“When I was working, if you didn’t have a certain number of DUI arrests, you were punished,” Holt said. That punishment was doled out in different ways, from being forced to work night shifts until they make more arrests to losing out on overtime opportunities, being transferred to other districts, or even seasoned officers being assigned to ride along with supervisors to help them make arrests.

“I know what a DUI looks like,” said Holt, whose comments were echoed by the other troopers. “I was leading my troop with moving violations ... it wasn’t enough. I worked straight evenings for four months because I didn’t have enough DUI arrests. I’m just not going to arrest somebody and take them to jail if they’re not drunk.”

“Apparently it’s more important to sit in the city and watch for somebody not wearing a seatbelt than be on the interstate stopping somebody running 90 miles an hour,” Holt said.

Another trooper who still works at THP said he also refuses to make unwarranted arrests, something that often ruins a person’s career or family.

“When you arrest somebody for DUI, you’ve just cost them $10,000,” the trooper said. “I’m not arresting somebody and ruining them just for a number. The DAs don’t have a problem with my cases, and I’ve convicted every one of them.”

The punishment for a first-time DUI conviction is an 11 month, 29 day jail sentence that is usually suspended to 48 hours; driver’s license revocation for one year; a $350 fine and court costs of $463; restitution to any victim in the case, and if the judge approves an ignition interlock device, there would be a costs there.

That does not include the cost of bond or an attorney in the case, towing, high-risk insurance, probation fees, license-reinstatement fees or any required alcohol- or drug-treatment plans.

Another current trooper said the officers were told they must have double-digit DUI arrests this year, then later were told the target was at least 12. The trooper also said they are required to have five by June and conduct three “seatbelt blitzes” each week. A seatbelt blitz was described as the trooper parking near an intersection to watch for motorists not wearing a seatbelt. The offending motorist is motioned to pull over, and the trooper writes a ticket.

“There is a quota. There sure is. They call it goals and they use percentages and not a set number (as that goal),” one trooper said, adding that his DUI arrest rate isn’t what his supervisors want to see, but his conviction rate is above 90 percent. Other troopers with higher arrests have much lower conviction rates, something he says is evidence of wrongful arrests.

Conviction rates are not readily available from any agency, it seems. County clerk’s offices can’t provide them because their computer system does not support a search function.

The same holds true for District Attorney General offices, even those with grant-funded DUI prosecutors through the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. Some of the information might be available for the DA offices that receive the grant-funded DUI prosecutor positions. Washington County has one of those positions, which is filled by Assistant District Attorney General Joe Shults.

Shults said he files a quarterly report with the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, but he can’t separate the information by agency without going back through the actual court documents to specifically look at the Highway Patrol. But when the information was requested from that state office, a spokeswoman deferred to the Department of Safety, which is the governing department of the THP.

“It is reported to us via their quarterly status reports, but I am unsure if there is a way to pull it all at once,” said Amanda Brown, public information officer for the Governor's Highway Safety Office. Later she said, “the Department of Safety is the best place to locate this data. I've forwarded the request on.”

Earlier in the week, THP spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said the department does not maintain prosecution rates.

“As for prosecution rates, we do not receive data from the courts indicating how many of those arrested were prosecuted. Supervisors in the districts are tasked with monitoring trooper performance, and this includes court cases,” Qualls said in an email response to a request for the information.

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