Washington, DC — The U.S. Forest Service has ordered each of its law enforcement officers to write at least 100 violation notices per year, according to an internal email released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Few officers are meeting this high citation target amid conflicting directives from top Law Enforcement and Investigations (LE&I) brass about what is demanded of them.
In a November 6, 2013 email, Aban Lucero, the Patrol Commander for the Southwest Region of the Forest Service, reiterated to his patrol captains that LEI&I Director David Ferrell is serious about law enforcement officers issuing a target number of violation notices (VNs are citations for minor offenses, such as traffic and camping violations):
“Understand, Director Ferrell has clearly indicated his expectations of LEOs issuing a minimum of 100 VNs per year, and as you can see we have approximately 70% of LEOs…who fall below that number. For FY 14, I expect these numbers to increase substantially.”
Agency veterans report that explicit ticket quotas were unheard of in the Forest Service until Ferrell’s tenure. While ticket quotas are illegal in several states, there is no federal law against it. However, requiring officers to write a high number of citations is problematic for several reasons, including that it –
- Pressures officers to punish rather than assist members of the public who may not be aware of a transgression; and
- Distorts how officer productivity is gauged by, among other things, deemphasizing serious criminal enforcement activity resulting in more than a mere Violation Notice; and
- Flies in the face of the Forest Service Manual provision vesting the individual officer with discretion in initiating VNs absent a malicious act endangering the safety or rights of others.
“Forest Service rangers should not be reduced to enforcement ATM’s who only dispense tickets,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is surveying all LE&I personnel on leadership, morale and other issues, including the ticket quota which is a frequent subject of ranger complaints. “Ticket quotas are a poor measure of a law enforcement officer’s overall performance.”
Some critics point to a February 22nd drug raid on a Taos Valley ski resort in New Mexico’s Carson National Forest as a byproduct of citation quota pressure. Four Forest Service officers with a drug dog conducted a “saturation patrol” looking for people possessing drugs at the same time a cancer fundraising event was occurring. The sweep resulted in five violation notices for marijuana possession, one for illegal possession of prescription drugs and others for traffic and vehicle violations. Following negative publicity about this operation Deputy LE&I Director Tracy Perry sent a March 4 email to patrol commanders stating that current fiscal year performance measures “should not include quotas for the number of VNs” but without referencing Director Ferrell earlier orders.
Adding to the confusion, the new LE&I budget took a sudden 15% cut from last’s year’s levels. This shortfall has resulted in orders for “office days” taking officers off patrol and limiting shifts – restrictions that prevent officers from writing more violation notices.
“Forest Service rangers are whipsawed by contradictory orders from an apparently clueless leadership – the Director demands a quota; his Deputy says no; they are told to get out and write more tickets but then ordered to stay off the road to save gasoline,” Ruch added. “The only thing clear is that the Forest Service’s law enforcement program desperately needs a leadership upgrade.”