Lawrence Township, NJ – A group of law enforcement officers has blown the whistle on Lawrence Township and its police chief, accusing them of enforcing illegal ticket quotas as a means of generating revenue for the municipality.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in Mercer County Superior Court and it claimed that when Lawrence Township’s revenue was down, police administrators ordered officers to write tickets and impound cars “every time they are eligible and without discretion,” New Jersey Advance Media reported.
Lawrence Township police officers alleged in the lawsuit that they have been denied promotions, become the target of internal affairs investigations, were disciplined, and threatened with negative performance evaluations if they didn’t go along with Police Chief Brian Caloiaro’s illegal ticket quota, according to the Trentonian.
Chief Caloiaro and Lawrence Township are both named as defendants in the lawsuit brought on behalf of Police Business Association (PBA) Local 119, the union that represents the rank and file officers in the township’s police department.
Lawrence Township Police Lieutenant Joseph Amodio, Sergeant Scott Stein, Detective Andrew Lee, and Officers Marc Caponi, Andres Mejia and Hector Nieves are all named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, according to New Jersey Advance Media.
The lawsuit claimed that in March, Chief Caloiaro and his brothers, Lieutenant Joseph Caloiaro and Sergeant Scott Caloiaro, told officers to stop being lenient about traffic citations.
“The advisement campaign is over. No more catch and release, revenue needs to go up,” Lt. Caloiaro said, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that regardless of whether it was a criminal or motor vehicle offense, officers were supposed to have cars impounded and taken to the municipal lot, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
“Lawrence Township developed a systematic way to use motor vehicle enforcement to generate revenue. The system is intricate and places a substantial financial burden on anybody [who] commits a motor vehicle offense in Lawrence Township,” the lawsuit claimed.
According to the lawsuit, motorists have to pay a $300 non-refundable fee to retrieve their vehicle, even if they’re never convicted of the charges, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
The Lawrence Township PD only accepts cash or money orders so most people have to use the ATM in their lobby.
However, the lobby only dispenses a maximum of $200 at a time.
Meaning, at least two withdrawals – with their associated fees – are required to bail out a single vehicle, according to New Jersey Advance Media.
The lawsuit claimed that all of the ATM fees go to Lawrence Township.
“Therefore, upon the issuance of a ticket, regardless of the guilt of a motorist, he/she is already required to pay the township close to $475 between impound fees and towing costs just to get his/her car back. This is prior to a motorist being found guilty of an offense,” the lawsuit said.
“Defendants have systematically developed a system to siphon as much money as possible from motorists by demanding cars be impounded by officers which costs a motorist over $300 [which cannot be appealed to the municipal court judge] more than the motor vehicle ticket,” the complaint read, according to the Trentonian.
The lawsuit said that when officers complained about the ticket quotas and incessant impounding of vehicles for citable offenses, they were retaliated against, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
Officers made the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office aware of the ticket quota problem, but the lawsuit said nothing was done about it.
In fact, one prosecutor was captured on bodycam video saying Lt. Amodio was going to need “a lot of beef and beers” as fundraisers, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
“This was implying that the prosecutor’s office or the defendant were going to terminate [Lt. Amodio],” the suit alleged.
The lawsuit complained about civil rights violations, a hostile work environment, and asked the court to order the Lawrence Township to cease using the municipal court system as an improper revenue generator, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
New Jersey law says police departments "shall not establish any quota for arrests or citations" and shall not "use the number of arrests or citations issued by a law enforcement officer as the sole criterion for promotion, demotion, dismissal, or the earning of any benefit provided by the department or force,” according to The Trentonian.