KCPD traffic cop was told to target minority residents to meet ticket quotas: Lawsuit

A Kansas City police officer says his superiors instructed him to target minority residents in traffic stops in an effort to meet ticket quotas that are illegal under Missouri law, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week.

Edward Williams, a Kansas City Police Department traffic cop, filed the employment discrimination lawsuit Monday in Jackson County Circuit Court. In it, he says police leaders are disobeying the law by continuing to encourage officers to meet ticket goals in the traffic unit as part of their measured performance.

Williams says he was punished for raising complaints with his commanders over the so-called ticket quotas and “potentially racially discriminatory” policing practices in predominantly Black and other racial minority neighborhoods.

Williams, who says he has been with the department 21 years, complained to KCPD’s human resources department about a supervisor’s alleged directive “to go to minority neighborhoods to write tickets because of the belief that it would be easier to write multiple citations for every stop,” the lawsuit says.

He alleges his superiors instructed him to “target minority citizens” and says his superiors “constantly” subjected him to “racially inflammatory rhetoric” that was “directed at African American and other citizens.”

The lawsuit comes months after the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation of racial discrimination inside the police department. That came after a six-part series by The Star showed Black officers were forced off the job through harassment and unfair discipline.

In 2018, The Star analyzed traffic tickets issued the year before by the Kansas City Police Department and processed by the Kansas City Municipal Court. They found that, of the traffic tickets given to Kansas City residents, 60 percent went to African-Americans, who make up 30 percent of the population. Thirty-seven percent of tickets went to whites, who make up 59 percent of the population.

Williams, who is white, is suing the department for alleged violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act, including race and age discrimination, and a state law meant to protect whistle blowers. He alleges white KCPD commanders subjected him to racist rhetoric that “minority officers would have certainly reported,” the lawsuit says.

Sgt. Jake Becchina, a KCPD spokesman, acknowledged receipt of the court filing in an emailed response to The Star’s request for comment Tuesday. He said the police department generally does not comment on pending litigation, but said “we will be reviewing the details with our general counsel and will provide updates as advised.”

Wednesday afternoon, KCPD sent out a statement from Chief Stacy Graves, saying they’d received “several inquiries” about the lawsuit.

Graves said in her statement that KCPD is “dedicated to policing that is both equitable and fair in all aspects of our duties.” She added the department does not direct enforcement activities based on demographics, but rather focuses traffic enforcement in high crash locations as well as traffic complaint locations.

“I find these allegations very concerning and will immediately ensure the Traffic Division is reminded to operate and enforce laws appropriately,” Graves said.

Ticket quotas

In 2016, Missouri lawmakers prohibited law enforcement agencies from having policies “requiring or encouraging” an employee to meet a certain number of citations for traffic violations on a quota basis.

The law was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Republican who was a state senator at the time and went on to serve as Missouri’s attorney general before going to Washington.

It was billed as a deterrent to local governments relying on revenue generated through citations.

But in the lawsuit, Williams contends KCPD effectively bypassed the law by instead requiring traffic officers to make 100 stops per month. The number of stops was based on previous ticket counts, the lawsuit alleges.

Williams also pointed to a practice of sergeants printing tickets and ranking officers based on a ticket count.

“Officers have received unsatisfactory marks on their evaluations and had duties and benefits stripped for low ticket writing numbers. This continues to this date,” the lawsuit says.

Additionally, Williams alleges KCPD command staff told him and other sworn personnel to work without fully charged body cameras “due to low ticket numbers” attributed to the time it takes to charge the batteries. This order came despite a KCPD policy change whereby all patrol officers were outfitted with body cameras by April 2021, according to the lawsuit.

In May 2021, the lawsuit says Williams was put on a “personal performance improvement plan” because of his “low ticket quota.” He says he was verbally instructed to stop 10 cars per day for a year.

‘Kill everybody in the car’

After he was put on a performance plan, Williams filed a confidential complaint with KCPD human resources, the lawsuit says.

Among the concerns raised in the internal complaint was a directive from a KCPD captain instructing him and other officers to “approach every car with the mindset to be ready to kill everybody in the car,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint also referenced views allegedly expressed by a police captain that “officers should only respond to calls in the white neighborhoods … because those are the folks who are actually paying for the police.”

Roughly 10 weeks after the internal complaint was made, the lawsuit says, Williams received a letter saying an investigation had concluded and that “no violation was committed.” The lawsuit says that determination was made without Williams — or anyone else, to his knowledge — being interviewed.

Because he raised the complaints, Williams says he was forced to endure a “hostile” work environment. He also alleges he was “threatened with further discipline, demotion and other forms of reprimand” if he went against repeated orders to “perform KCPD duties without a charged bodycam.”

In addition to filing an internal complaint, Williams brought his allegations to the attention of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, which investigates discrimination in the workplace prohibited by state law. He also filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the lawsuit.