Former Bellefontaine Police Chief 'embarrassed' by ticket quota - KMOV.com

Former Bellefontaine Police Chief 'embarrassed' by ticket quota policy

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(KMOV.com) - The U.S. Department of Justice wants to meet with the Bellefontaine Neighbors police chief to discuss the city's policy on requiring a certain number of activities for officers.

The list of possible activities, includes traffic tickets and arrests. The city defends the policy, but now a former city chief says it makes him embarrassed. Dave Erker was so upset after watching News 4’s story on the quota that he contacted News 4 Investigates. Erker was a Bellefontaine Neighbors cop for 34 years, the last nine as police chief.

"It kind of embarrassed me because I didn't think they would do that. I didn't think they needed that," said Erker.

During his time as chief, Erker says the department would encourage officers to be more active and enforce the law, and that included writing tickets, but he insists there was never a quota. He said officers never had a line item on a spreadsheet suggesting up to 15 percent of their required monthly total could be arrests.

Erker isn't the only former police chief to blast the Bellefontaine Neighbors policy. Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch was critical as well.

"It's absolutely unethical. A lot of the officers will tell you privately that “I have to do this or else,’ but most of the time the mayors and police chiefs aren't stupid enough to put it in writing," Fitch said.

The key source in News 4’s was former Bellefontaine Neighbors officer Joe St. Clair, who provided News 4 with the documentation to prove that the city had a quota policy and used it to discipline, or threaten to discipline, officers who failed to meet the minimum number of "self-initiated activities." St. Clair failed to meet the minimum in September 2013, and was reprimanded for it.

"I believe the chief put an illegal mandate on his officers" said St. Clair.

Sitting Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Chief Robert Pruett defended the policy, calling it a well-rounded list of activities designed to encourage good policing. He insists that since each activity is given a maximum percentage of the officer's overall requirement, and not an actual number. He said there isn't a quota and that the actual numbers of reports, or tickets, or arrests are determined by the officers.

"Everything that's on my list and this paper are part of a police officer's job. It’s the totality of the job." said Pruett.

It's mathematically possible for officers to meet the total required minimum number if they never write up an ordinance violation or make an arrest, as long as they write more tickets or another activity. Even if they max out every category, including arrests, they must write uniform traffic tickets.

Despite long lines of nearly all black defendants at the city's municipal court, the chief insists officers aren't targeting minorities and that the Attorney General's report on racial profiling shows the city doesn't target non-white drivers.  The chief seemed offended that his system would be considered unfair, and a disservice to the community. 

"I would never do anything to damage this community. Never. This is all about policemen doing their jobs," said Pruett.

Missouri State Senator Eric Schmitt (R-St. Louis County) has asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to investigate the policy. Koster’s office says it will review evidence.

Pruett says he's ready to defend the policy when he meets with the Department of Justice.

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