“This error has negatively impacted the patrol’s image, which was never the intent, but I feel it is in the best interest of the patrol that I retire,” wrote Lt. Col Michael Thomas, who earned $131,000 a year in his job as deputy director.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida is confronting an uproar over whether the state’s highway patrol is requiring troopers to meet ticket quotas for drivers, including millions of tourists each year who crowd its interstate highways.
Top state officials insist quotas are not allowed, but the second-highest ranking official in the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) resigned Monday amid an ongoing review. Lt. Col. Michael Thomas stepped down after it was discovered he sent an email in late May that encouraged troopers to write two tickets an hour.
In his letter announcing his early retirement, Thomas called the email a “grave error” and said he was taking responsibility for his actions.
“This error has negatively impacted the patrol’s image, which was never the intent, but I feel it is in the best interest of the patrol that I retire,” wrote Thomas, who earned $131,000 a year in his job as deputy director.
Col. Gene Spaulding, the highway patrol director, said while the email was sent with the goal of “providing enhanced public safety,” it was still “inappropriate to request a specific number of citations from our members.”
FHP is responsible for monitoring state highways, including interstates 10, 95 and 75 that link Florida to the rest of the country.
Thomas had been with the FHP for 30 years. His last day on the job will be Friday. His resignation marked the second at the Florida Highway Patrol this month related to traffic tickets.
Maj. Mark Welch of Tallahassee’s Troop H resigned after he told troopers they weren’t writing enough tickets. His email became public because the Tampa Bay Times reported Welch had told troopers under his command via email that “the patrol wants to see two citations each hour,” adding that it’s not a quota.
Welch resigned hours after Attorney General Pam Bondi called his actions “reckless” and “stupid” during a public meeting with top officials in the FHP and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
When drivers pay their ticket fine, the money doesn’t go back to the FHP. Instead the money is turned back over to cities and counties where the ticket was written.
In his retirement letter, Thomas contended no trooper has been disciplined or threatened because of how many tickets are written. Still, he said in his personal opinion it was “detrimental” to call goals a “quota.”
Data provided by the department shows the number of tickets written by troopers has been falling the last three years. Troopers wrote almost 935,000 tickets in 2014, but that dropped to 749,000 in 2016. During the same time, the agency has struggled to fill all of its trooper positions.
As of the end of June, there were 162 vacancies, according to Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The department is authorized to have almost 2,000 troopers statewide.
State legislators and Gov. Rick Scott agreed this year to boost the starting pay of troopers and to give a 5-percent raise. Scott wants to give them another raise next year.