FERRIER FILES: Ridgetop Police Chief says he's forced into illegal traffic ticket quotas
RIDGETOP, Tenn. (WZTV) —
Ridgetop, Tennessee: Population 2,076. The town has a small police force, but they write a ton of traffic tickets.
Last year officers wrote more than a quarter million dollars of tickets in tiny Ridgetop. Sound high?
Ridgetop police chief Bryan Morris says too high. He goes even farther and claims he is being forced by the mayor and vice mayor to write even more tickets.
"It's a ticket quota that they have put on the department, and it's such an astronomical amount. I can't justify my guys sitting 10 to 12 hours running radar and doing nothing else," said Chief Morris.
Ticket quotas in Tennessee are illegal. An elected official cannot order a police department to write a certain amount of tickets.
It is against the law to threaten the police officer's job, raises or staffing. It can be considered official misconduct, which is a felony.
Chief Morris asked drug detective Shawn Taylor to investigate. Detective Taylor secretly recorded meetings between city officials and police.
This is a transcript of a secret audio recording of Vice-Mayor McCaw Johnson: "I will make a proposal right now. I will give the two bottom guys a raise for the 12-month period and hire back the seventh officer if you write an average of 210 tickets a month. I will do that, but I better see 210 tickets a month," said Vice Mayor Johnson.
Officer Taylor volunteered for the investigation even though he knows it might cost him his job.
"It is our job to call that out and to hold whoever it is accountable. We are the last line of defense. If we are not going to stand up, who is? Who is going to protect the citizens," questioned Officer Shawn Taylor.
Officer Taylor says he takes it personal because he is getting no credit for solving serious crimes but everyone is heavily criticized if they don't write traffic tickets.
"Law enforcement is not about tickets, it's about trying to cut down on crime, it's not about generating revenue. All you hear on that tapes is revenue, revenue, revenue. You don't hear anything about public safety," said Officer Taylor.
Look at Ridgetop ticket revenues compared to cities the same size
Carthage wrote $13,000 in citations. Monterey, $28,000. Woodbury, $49,000. Waynesboro, $55,000 Adamsville, $93,000. Then you have Ridgetop at $258,000.
"They are not elected to do what they want to do they are elected to do what the people want them to do, and I guarantee if you asked those people if you would rather have the whole department under a tree writing tickets or out patrolling the neighborhood and solving crimes that is probably what they want to do."
FOX 17 News dropped into a council meeting unannounced. Neither the mayor or vice-mayor knew about the secret recordings.
When Mayor Reasoner was asked if he knew ticket quotas were illegal he answered: "Yes, we do. We know."
Vice Mayor McCaw denied that he set a ticket quota at 210 tickets per month.
"I don't talk tickets. I talk revenue stream," said Vice Mayor McCaw Johnson.
More on this story Thursday at 9 p.m.