Saturday, February 18, 2006

You say quota...

I say "Mutually Defined Objectives."

Anger from Howard County police officers over what they described as a quota system for issuing traffic citations prompted the department yesterday to suspend the directive, police said.

Patrol officers in some squads were told last month to issue three traffic citations a day and two tickets for driving under the influence every month, police sources said. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Although some supervisors told their squads that they would not enforce the policy, others threatened their officers with disciplinary action if they did not comply, the sources said.

"Everyone was outraged that there might be disciplinary actions for not meeting a quota," one police source said.
Here's where my libertarian side comes out. While I completely support law enforcement and crime prevention, I don't agree with forcing officers -- through quotas and disciplinary measures -- to fish for crime. If a law is being broken and they know it, fine. But quotas create incentives to blur the delicate line between enforcement and infringing on (currently out of favor) civil liberties.

The incentives created by quotas mean that even if people aren't breaking the law, somebody's going to get ticketed or arrested. We lower the standard for criminal activity to things that may be borderline crimes at best; for instance, if an officer is nearing the end of his shift and hasn't gotten that last traffic stop, well, someone doing 58 mph in a 55 mph zone might have their day ruined (and their insurance jacked up) for drifting too fast down a hill. Not a good way to engender positive feelings for the local constables.
(Police department spokeswoman Sherry) Llewellyn noted that the directive -- known as Mutually Defined Objectives, or MDOs -- does not use the word quota and calls on officers to make traffic stops, not necessarily to write tickets or make arrests.

...Although the policy doesn't directly refer to a quota, some supervisors threatened officers with transfers if they did not issue enough tickets, sources said. They said some officers had been penalized in their performance evaluations for not writing enough tickets.

"It's just verbal gymnastics," one police source said. "There is a quota, but they don't want to call it that, because they know it looks bad."
Whoever this source was nailed it. It's one thing to have performance goals for the officers, but it's quite another to mandate these goals with threats. As I said, what if the crime just isn't out there? Why would you want to punish an officer for not ticketing a law-abiding citizenry?

As for political fallout, this could tarnish the campaign of Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who is running for the District 5 council seat. I'm not sure how big of a story it will become, but it certainly raises questions.

The Sun has more.
Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay canceled the short-lived policy yesterday after learning about it from The Sun the day before. Up until then, Livesay said, he had not seen the written agreement between commanders and patrol supervisors dated Nov. 22 that included consequences, such as warnings and additional performance evaluations, for patrol officers who did not meet the drunken-driving arrest and traffic-stop "goals.
And then there's Howard County Blog #1's take, which is pretty much how I reacted to the above excerpt.
Hadn't seen the directive? Who is running the Police Department? Well I admit it isn't me, and I don't know how things operate in the Howard County Police Department or any other Police Department. All I know is that I know how I run my organization and it is very hands on - so something like this wouldn't escape my attention for 2 or 3 months. I don't believe for a moment that Chief Livesay doesn't have a handle on the day to day activities of his organization.

It is probably more accurate to say "suspended the directive... after first learning this would be printed in the paper and he is now running for County Council."
Thanks to a reader for sending in the tip.

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