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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    After two fake traffic ticket scandals, Conn. police departments reexamine practices

    Recent revelations that officers created fake traffic tickets at two separate Connecticut police departments have caught the attention of other local law enforcement agencies, prompting concern and leading some to reexamine their own practices.

    But officials at several larger area police forces expressed confidence that they have enough measures in place to prevent similar deception within their ranks.

    Departments also stressed that, unlike one of the agencies now under scrutiny, they do not consider how many tickets an officer writes for performance evaluations or give out perks to officers who issue many tickets.

    "We don't use ticket production as part of evaluation," said Hartford Police Lt. Aaron Boisvert. "There is no benefit to the number of tickets you turn in."

    Stamford and Norwalk police officials said they also do not consider ticket productivity in evaluations.

    Officers from two local police departments are under separate criminal investigations over allegations they created fake tickets.

    One case involves four Connecticut State Police troopers.

    Last month, Hearst Connecticut Media Group reported on internal police records describing how department investigators in 2018 uncovered the troopers had collectively entered at least 636 fake tickets into the state police computer system over a nine-month stretch to make themselves appear more productive than they really were. Officials believed some troopers had created additional fake tickets dating back years.

    The tickets were fabricated to gain perks from supervisors, including specialty vehicles and positive evaluations, which can lead to better assignments, promotions and pay raises, according to state police records.

    At least two of the troopers received a specialty cruiser — an unmarked Dodge Charger — in part because of their increased productivity.

    Stamford Police Sgt. Jeff Booth, the department's traffic division supervisor, said the allegations were disturbing.

    "It's embarrassing," Booth said. "Why go through the process to make fake tickets to get a perk? What were they doing when they were making those [tickets] up? They could have been out writing real tickets and doing enforcement."

    State police said the department has since curbed its practice of giving out special vehicles.

    State police have stressed the department does not have a ticket quota system, referring to the practice of determining how many citations an officer must issue within a specified timeframe.

    Connecticut, like many other states, bans such quotas. But state law does allow the number of tickets written by an officer to be considered for performance evaluations, provided it's not the sole factor assessed.

    State police also insisted that no drivers were actually issued fake tickets; officers only entered phony ticket data into state police computers to boost their production numbers.

    "It's not fictitious tickets, it's fictitious reporting of tickets," State Police Col, Stavros Mellekas told Hearst last month. "It was a falsifying of statistics ... it was numbers and statistics."

    Days after Hearst Connecticut Media's report, the state's top prosecutor announced a criminal investigation into the trooper's actions.

    Earlier this year, Norwalk police discovered one of their officers had created more than 30 fake tickets.

    Former Officer Edgar Gonzalez was arrested and charged in February after investigators determined the tickets had been created over a four-month span. The case remains pending in court.

    Norwalk Deputy Chief James Walsh said changes in their computer system now prevent an officer from creating similar fake tickets.

    "We conducted an internal and criminal investigation into the manufacturing of the fake tickets and have put in safeguards that are checked monthly to prevent any future manufacturing of fake citations," Walsh said.

    Walsh declined to elaborate on how the officer created the fake tickets citing the ongoing criminal case.

    He stressed the department does not have a "quota system or evaluate ticket production in performance evaluations."

    The fake ticket scheme in Norwalk was discovered when a resident complained to the department about seeing information on the agency's website saying they had received a ticket. The resident found the information because had signed up for a Google service to receive an automated alert if their name was published online.

    Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said the fake ticket scandals have generate some discussion among local departments.

    "Some departments took an opportunity to audit themselves, but it has not been an overwhelming topic of discussion," he said.

    Dryfe said that at most departments, including his own, officers trying any similar scheme would be caught quickly.

    "There are too many checks and balances," Dryfe said. "They would get caught."

    In Cheshire, for example, officers "would be entering directly into our database and not some internal document," Dryfe said. "Our records people would be looking for that infraction to send it to the Centralized Infractions Bureau. I don't think you would get away with it for very long."

    Dryfe said he suspects the state police troopers were entering fake ticket information into a section of the state police computer system.

    Dryfe noted tickets are sent to the state's Centralized Infractions Bureau, an arm of the court system that handles citations. If a plea or payment was not received, the person named on the ticket would likely be issued an arrest warrant for failure to appear, he pointed out.

    "It had to be some sort of internal system they were manipulating," Dryfe said. "They have never fully explained how it was done."

    In Hartford, Boisvert said he had never heard of anything close to what the state troopers did.

    "I can assure you this is not happening in Hartford," Boisvert said. "We have no record of that ever happening here."

    In Stamford, Booth expressed similar confidence in the safeguards already in place. He said internal controls and redundant processes prevent his officers from creating fake tickets.

    "We have never had that problem in Stamford," Booth said, referring to fake tickets.

    "You can't go into the system and make up a fake ticket," Booth said. "You have to actually draw a case or number and have a reason to be on a call. Our system does not really allow fake tickets."

    Booth said Stamford's ticket system requires multiple steps to create a ticket. "You have to make a case number and put out a specific location. It's really not feasible. The system won't allow us to write anything fake," Booth said.

    Booth said Stamford police also do not reward higher ticket production with perks or special privileges.

    "We never had that as a standard," Booth said. "Never used it as a barometer for a special assignment or anything. It's the awards you receive, supervisor recommendations, how good your paperwork is — that's all part of it."

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