Ridgetop, TN – The police chief of a small Tennessee town has blown the whistle on a revenue scheme hatched by the mayor and vice mayor that required officers to write an average of 210 tickets a month.
Last year alone, Ridgetop police officers wrote $258,000 in tickets in a town with a population of only 2,076 people.
"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," Ridgetop Police Chief Bryan Morris told WZTV.
In other towns of the same size, officers wrote between $13,000 and $93,000 in tickets, but nowhere else came even close to the revenue Ridgetop generates through ticket fines.
Chief Morris said he’s being pushed to have his officers write even more tickets by the mayor and the vice mayor of the town.
But ticket quotas are illegal in Tennessee, and elected officials cannot force police departments to write a specific number of tickets, according to WZTV.
It’s also against the law to threaten a law enforcement officer’s job, raises, or staffing – such behavior can be charged as felony official misconduct.
Frustrated with what the chief knew were clearly illegal orders from the town’s hierarchy, he set out to expose what was happening, WZTV reported.
He asked Ridgetop Police Detective Shawn Taylor to help him gather evidence about the misconduct, and the experienced drug investigator agreed to assist, regardless of the fact that helping the chief could ultimately get him fired.
"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?" Det. Taylor asked.
The detective said he takes the whole situation personally because he doesn’t get credit when he solves real crimes, but he gets criticized if he doesn’t write as many tickets as they want, WZTV reported.
"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 tape is revenue, revenue, revenue. You don't hear anything about public safety," Det. Taylor said.
So the detective secretly recorded meetings between Ridgetop Mayor Tony Reasoner, Vice-Mayor McCaw Johnson, and Chief Morris.
During the meeting, Johnson told the police chief that he would give raises and hire a seventh officer for an average of 210 tickets per month per officer.
"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," Johnson said on the recording.
But when WZTV showed up at the city council meeting and asked Reasoner and Johnson about the recording, they denied having set quotas.
"I don't talk tickets. I talk revenue stream," Johnson said.
When asked if he knew that quotas were illegal in Tennessee, the mayor said he was aware of the law.
WZTV reported that they had turned the findings of their investigation over to the district attorney.