Did illegal ticket quotas hasten Gesell’s exit?

May 11, 2015

Steve Gesell 4By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN

San Luis Obispo Police Chief Steve Gesell’s command staff initiated an illegal ticket quota scheme with pizza as a reward, emails obtained by CalCoastNews show, an activity that may have contributed to Gesell’s being placed on paid administrative leave Friday.

City officials are not disclosing the reasons for Gesell’s departure.

In the past, the San Luis Obispo Police Department has been plagued with complaints of ticket quotas. Ticket quotas are against state law.

A quota exists when a department sets a number of tickets and citations an officer is expected to write during a shift. Ticket quotas are banned because they are known to promote questionable ticketing with higher revenue as an objective.

In San Luis Obispo, officers who do not to meet the minimums are put on a “performance improvement” plan, police sources said. Officers who fail to improve while on the performance plan are subject to disciplinary actions, including termination.

Gesell did not respond to questions about the alleged quotas. Nevertheless, a records request for end-of-shift emails shows that the department was providing perks to officers for reaching specified ticketing goals.

In 2013, SLO police officers made 396 driving under the influence arrests, or an average of one a day.

On Feb. 13, police command staff asked the officers to give five DUIs during one shift, sources said. If the officers met the goal, command staff would host a party for the officers.

In an end-of-shift email dubbed “Friday the 13th,” Sgt. John Villanti writes that officers stayed busy all night, with one local man dying of a heroin overdose, and five others being arrested for DUIs.

“It should be noted that the watch fulfilled a challenge set in the beginning of the rotation by Sgt. Gillham,” Villanti wrote in an email he sent to officers on Feb. 14 shortly after 6 a.m. “He offered to provide a pizza party if the watch arrested five DUI’s in a night. With Sgt. Villanti substituting for Gillham this was achieved and we are all looking forward to the pizza party which hopefully is served with dessert too!!!”

Sources inside the department said that shortly after CalCoastNews made its requests for end-of-shift emails, the department stopped pushing ticket quotas. Cities such as Los Angeles and Paso Robles have paid large settlements to officers who have filed lawsuits alleging illegal ticket quotas.

In addition to accusations of promoting illegal ticker quotas, Gesell has been under fire for charging city taxpayers for meals purchased for his family during a combination chief training and family vacation to Disney World. This was first reported by CalCoastNews in an exclusive report.

After city officials conducted their own investigation, City Manager Katie Lichtig said that some of the police chief’s financial transgressions were “mistakes.” In other cases, while Gesell’s actions violated written city policies, his actions were excused as a “consistent application” of policy according to a “historical interpretation.” Historical interpretation means that even though policies and procedures have been laid out, prior practice allows them to be violated without consequence.

Gesell was also criticized for a December opinion piece in the Tribune about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Gesell wrote that he was shocked by the “ever-growing lack of deference to rule of law, push for mob justice by some and a concerted lack of objective focus by the media….”

Reliable and informed sources say Lichtig placed Gesell on leave as part of a plan to remove him from the city payroll because of irreconcilable differences. The late-day timing of Friday’s disciplinary action was a failed attempt to keep the public in the dark, sources said.

In addition, the city council is expected to discuss a payout, likely to be in six figures, at a council meeting later this month — during a closed session. Lichtig hired Gesell as chief in Jan. 2012.

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57 Comments

  1. sloaim says:

    You guys really need to stop speculating as to “why this?” and “why that” and get some actual facts. He is not being let go because of quotas or expense reports. If you are going to report something get something more than a guess. The fact is Chief Gesell has done more positive things in three years than the last chief did in her entire employment. Maybe the answer doesn’t rest with chief at all. The fact is he is, like most employees in CA, an at will employee and the city manager is allowed to do whatever she wants with or without the consent of the people.

    (-2) 10 Total Votes - 4 up - 6 down
  2. topper01 says:

    SLO PD never had a quota. They could write as many as they want. On the other hand, if your beat (area of responsibility) has a high amount of traffic accidents and large number of citizens complaints then you had better be writing citations or you are NOT doing your job. Quota be Dam!

    (0) 8 Total Votes - 4 up - 4 down
    • Dogpound says:

      The sad thing is, the media and the general public has no idea what a ticket quota actually is. They don’t know there was a collegiate study that showed writing tickets for hazardous driving reduces accidents; it’s called the traffic index. I can tell patrol to go out a write 10 tickets today. That is not a quota by legal definition. That is a goal. You don’t need to worry about getting a ticket if you drive like you should: don’t speed, don’t run reds or stop signs, stay off your damn cell phone, pay attention. God forbid you are held accountable for driving like an idiot.

      (-1) 5 Total Votes - 2 up - 3 down
  3. hijinks says:

    This is so sad, but it’s emblematic of the corrupt cesspool SLO city hall has become since Lichtig arrived from Beverly Hills with her crony-centric big city brand of money-obsessed politics. She has polluted the pool, corrupted the place, and this is just one small example. The regular press no longer serves any watchdog function, so citizens are astonished when something like this pops up in CCN, but believe me, it’s barely the tip of a huge iceberg of bad stuff at city hall. This place stinks — a very sad descent into becoming a totally toxic city operation from previously having been fairly well run, with an honest streak going back decades. You know things are bad when they have to rename their website “open government.” Only the guilty have to come up with deceptions like that.

    (6) 6 Total Votes - 6 up - 0 down
  4. old-jbird says:

    Pizza? Really?? Or is that a code word for some other perk?

    (2) 8 Total Votes - 5 up - 3 down
    • hijinks says:

      I am told that in the good old days, the 1970s, officers would give pretty young women tickets, then offer, if they would accompany said officer to a pullout along the old highway beyond Cuesta Park (conveniently out of police radio range) for a pizza party, to make ticket go away. Is that what you had in mind?

      (-6) 6 Total Votes - 0 up - 6 down
      • topper01 says:

        Obviously you are not familiar with how police departments citation accountability works. The officer is accountable for every citation he/she is issued. If there is a gap in citation number(s) a written report must be submitted accounting for the missing cite.

        (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down

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