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City leaders question police department's new traffic stop standards

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Some Athens city leaders are questioning the police department's new standards for traffic stops. Concerned residents are calling it a quota -- but the police department says that's not the case.

The department's "work performance standards" changed back in February. Each officer is now expected to make at least two traffic stops per shift.

"Some citizens basically say that we're a speed trap city," said Athens City Councilman Dick Pelley. "You can't drive down some streets without seeing policemen waiting to stop people."

According to an Athens Police Dept. memo sent earlier this year, "Patrol officers are expected to make at least two traffic stops per shift to ensure the safety of the public. Officers who fail to meet this expectation will face disciplinary action for poor work performance."

It raised a red flag for Pelley.

"Any time that you put expectations on a person, for a certain behavior, in a certain time, it's a quota," Pelley said.

Police Chief Charles Ziegler says otherwise.

Ziegler cites Tennessee State Law, which allows agencies to "establish performance standards... that include issuing traffic citations" as long as it's not the only way of meeting work performance standards.

"We ask that they make two traffic stops each day. They can write a warning citation or an actual citation. That is one part of 12 performance standards for the Athens Police Department," Ziegler said.

According to department policy, "There is no specific number of citations that an officer has to write."

Ziegler said the traffic program focuses on public safety.

"Over the last five years, we've had a decrease of almost 48 percent in our traffic citations, which has led to an increase in crashes, and beginning to increase in our injuries," he said. "That is a very serious concern to the police department and the citizens of Athens who are trying to drive through safely."

Last year, Athens police issued 6,239 citations. Thirty percent of those were speeding tickets.

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