Attorney contends TN Highway Patrol has a quota system for DUI arrests

A Johnson City attorney contends in a court filing that a Tennessee Highway Patrol memo shows there is a quota system for DUI arrests by state troopers. Highway Patrol officials adamantly deny the claim, but the Johnson City Press reports talking with officers who – when allowed to speak anonymously – disagree.

The memo in question, emailed to troopers in the Fall Branch district on Dec. 17 by Lt. Traci Barrett, addresses what she called “enforcement goals” for each officer as well as the district. Don Spurrell filed the email – which he said was obtained by someone outside the department – as an exhibit to the motion on behalf of his client, Steven Valley, 44, of Limestone.

And while top THP officials said the allegations about arrest quotas simply are not true, the Press interviewed several state troopers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and they disputed their superiors assertions. One said state troopers have resorted to focusing on areas around bars in Johnson City in order to get their DUI arrest numbers up.

“They make these rounds (and) if they see one pull out, they’ll nab it,” one trooper said. One problem this person has seen comes from higher arrest numbers is a conviction rate that doesn’t correspond.

“If they’re not drunk, don’t arrest them,” the trooper said, adding that the smell of alcohol on a person is no indication of their level of intoxication. “Just because someone has had one drink doesn’t mean you take them to jail.”

“Our job is to cover the interstates and main highways,” not patrol Johnson City where there is a city police force, the trooper said.

Another trooper said there is a lot of conversation among troopers about the DUI arrest requirements, and many have been forced into making arrests they were not comfortable with just to appease a supervisor and put another mark in their arrest column.

…In Barrett’s email to her troop of officers, she never tells them there is a certain number of DUI arrests they must make, but encourages them to keep up with the district average and help each other out if another trooper is “falling behind.”

“If we have personnel that fall behind the district trooper average on DUI arrests, then I cannot allow us to remain on permanent shifts. As we all know, DUI arrests are extremely important, and no group of personnel should be expected to ’carry’ another group,” Barrett wrote to her officers in Troop C.

…THP Col. Tracy Trott, in a phone interview from Nashville, said the agency has never had quotas of any kind for any type of offense. His agency is simply focused on “saving as many lives as possible,” he said.

“We don’t have a quota on any type of arrests, DUI, speeding or otherwise,” Trott said. “There’s no unwritten policy.”

Trott said the “district trooper average” simply refers to statistics from the last few years.

“I think what some supervisors still do is they will look statistically at the history of the last few years and see what the volume has been in that particular area. In some areas, like Johnson City, you’re going to have more DUI enforcement than you would in Grainger or Hancock County because of the population and the fact you have an urban area,” Trott said.

Supervisors will “use that average over a period of time to judge how we’re doing at this particular time,” he said.