I-TEAM

Parking quota drives ticket writing frenzy, error rate

CREATED Jul. 10, 2012 - UPDATED: Jul. 10, 2012

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MILWAUKEE- For more than two decades, Ed Fleury was the guy you loved to hate.          

Fleury spent 24 years writing parking tickets for the City of Milwaukee, before retiring in 2009. 

A retirement that came, Fleury said, because he could no longer stand pressure from above to constantly write more tickets.

"When you're constantly barraged like that, it's just like beating a dog," he said.

Fleury tells the I-TEAM that pressure came from parking supervisors who expect a certain number of tickets written by each checker each day.

In other words -- the city has a quota.

When the I-TEAM sat down with Milwaukee parking supervisor Tom Sanders in May, he insisted ticket quotas were just a myth.  "We do not have a quota, we do not have a performance standard whatsoever," Sanders said.

According to Ed Fleury and three current Milwaukee parking checkers, the pressure to hit a quota is very real.

"The focus became more and more about production and numbers than it did about anything else," said Fleury.

The three parking checkers still on the job spoke with the I-TEAM on the condition they remain nameless, for fear of punishment by their supervisors.

They independently confirmed Fleury's description of a quota system -- supervisors expecting a parking checker working a certain shift in a certain area to produce a minimum number of tickets.

They also confirmed Fleury's description of how parking checkers are punished for failing to meet that minimum number.

That punishment comes in a trip to a less desirable schedule on second or third shift.  "It was a punishment," said a parking checker currently employed by the city.

Fleury said pressure and fear are big reasons why parking checkers sometimes write tickets that are wrong.

"You're going to do it as quick as you can and move on to the next," he said. "If there's mistakes made, a lot of times they'd have the attitude that let's let the person take care of it and if they don't, well we made some extra money."

In 2011, for example, parking checkers wrote nearly $1 million in parking tickets that were eventually voided.  Money the city would have added to a fat bankroll funded by parking fines.
 
FROM POLICE TO PUBLIC WORKS

To understand why Milwaukee would even consider a ticket quota, it is important to understand a little history.

Around the year 2000, the city shifted parking checking from police to the Department of Public Works.

It was a move designed to free up police resources and modernize the way parking is controlled.

It also increased the number of parking checkers from 40 to 65 and helped Milwaukee make staggering amounts of money off parking fines.

When police had the job, Milwaukee made a good bit of money off parking tickets.

In 1995, that number was a shade over $9.2 million.

Under public works, the numbers exploded.

By 2010, the amount of fine revenue had nearly tripled to $25 million.

Mike D'Amato was an alderman during the first years of DPW's parking reign and was convinced the change was a good idea.

"I think the original intent had very little to do with revenue," D'Amato said.

In 2003 -- D'Amato had second thoughts when he became convinced DPW had a quota.

"I think there was enough information at the time where they were trying to reach a number, a dollar amount rather than a balance in the neighborhood."

D'Amato joined with a handful of aldermen who drafted a resolution telling DPW to chill out.

The resolution says, in part, Milwaukee was "gaining a reputation as overly-aggressive in its parking enforcement" and those efforts were "merely aimed at generating additional revenue."

"You begin to get used to it," D'Amato said. "The elimination of that revenue creates a hole in you budget, and so it's been difficult to turn around after that."

As the numbers get bigger it's easy to see why.

Add up all the years since DPW took over in 2000 and parking fines have made Milwaukee $255 million dollars.

That's right -- more than a quarter-billion dollars off parking tickets.

Ald. Bob Donovan said he has no doubt this explosion is the result of what Ed Fleury and other parking checkers have described.

"I have no doubt they are working under a quota system," Donovan said. "It's very apparent when you talk in numbers like that."

Donovan said this pressure to write more tickets is just another burden to taxpayers.

A pressure renewed annually when DPW puts a number in the city budget projecting how much parking ticket money it expects to make in the coming year.

For 2012, the Department Public Works expects to make $23 million off parking fines.

A spokesperson for DPW did not respond to an e-mail requesting a response to specific questions raised by Fleury and his colleagues.

Alderman Donovan said the numbers speak plenty on DPW's behalf.

"They've got it down to a science without a doubt," Donovan said.

"They're pretty confident they can generate it and they'll know three or four months into the year whether they're on target, so they monitor it very closely."

If that's not a quota, Ed Fleury doesn't know what is.

"They would constantly tell you it's not about money, but the bottom line was you got lectured everyday about producing more tickets and bringing in more revenue," Fleury said.

Even if there's a chance some of those tickets will eventually be dismissed because the parking checker got it wrong.