MORRISTOWN, N.J. — The Policemen’s Benevolent Association of a New Jersey town is suing the local police department, claiming police officers have been forced to meet ticket quotas to generate extra revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a lawsuit filed Monday,PBA Local 43 officers alleged that the Morristown Police Department enacted an “illegal ticket quota system” that was enforced by ordering officers to engage in late-night walking posts.
“These orders are not only illegal but admittedly ‘unsafe’ to both the members of PBA 43 but also the citizens of Morristown,” read the lawsuit, filed in New Jersey Superior Court.
The PBA asked the court to shut down the alleged quota system and provide relief for any disciplinary actions against officers, prompted by the quotas, and reimbursement for attorney’s fees.
In the suit, the union alleges that Business Administrator Jillian Barrick said revenue was down and the Police Department “needed to increase revenue-generating activity.” On Oct. 7, Morristown police Capt. Michael Buckley sent an email to Patrol Lt. David Tissot asking him to develop a plan to ensure that officers were being productive in issuing tickets and summonses, the complaint said.
The message to Tissot, included in the lawsuit, mentions enforcement of “local ordinance violations” on the Morristown Green as well as parking tickets.
“I need to ensure that productivity is increasing or I will be in next week to begin addressing,” read the email to Tissot.
Two days later, Buckley allegedly ordered officers working shifts between 8:30 p.m. and 2:15 a.m. to be dropped off at their posts without a car. The suit said Tissot expressed concerns that the mandate would pose a danger to officers and slow response times in case of an emergency.
After Buckley said he would look into the matter, the PBA posted the concerns on its Facebook page the next day and said town administration “had chosen to retaliate against us” for not meeting the quotas. The late-night walking posts were intended as punishment, the union said.
“At times, we only have six officers working during those hours and only half of them have patrol vehicles,” read the PBA’s Oct. 11 post. “This potentially leaves three vehicles to respond to emergencies while three officers are confined to a one-block area depending on staffing levels.”
On Oct. 12, acting Morristown Police Chief Darnell Richardson responded on Facebook. He said the decision to assign officers to late-night foot patrols came in response to complaints at council meetings about the lack of police presence at night “that was not adequately addressed” by patrol car alone. He also addressed the claim of ticket quotas, which are a violation under New Jersey law.
“Police officers are simply expected to demonstrate productivity for each shift that they work, accountability that is expected of any Town employee,” Richardson wrote on Facebook. “It is troubling that our officers’ response to being held accountable for their hours of work is to contort that expectation into a false narrative to our residents rather than do the job they are expected to do.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Morristown officials called the lawsuit “alarming” and the claims asserted “wholly inconsistent with reality.”
“This frivolous lawsuit will be vigorously defended and the fabricated claims upon which it is based will be revealed,” read the statement to the Daily Record. “To be unequivocally clear; at no point has the Town or Bureau acted to ‘punish’ PBA Local 43 or its leadership under any alleged ‘quota’ system.
“This is purely an optics campaign meant to sway public opinion while the union is negotiating a new contract,” the statement continued.
It’s not the first legal skirmish between rank-and-file officers and the town.
In 2018, the PBA defended Officer Keith Hudson after he filed a whistleblower complaint claiming he was demoted for reporting that former Police Chief Peter Demnitz was working for JCP&L, Morristown Medical Center and others while simultaneously signed in at the chief’s office. Hudson won the lawsuit and was awarded $1.7 million in damages.
Follow New Jersey reporter Jessie Gomez on Twitter: Twitter: @jessiereport