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Cops & Quota Systems

February 27, 2012

2. Law, 4. Arrest, 8. Lawsuits

Cops & Quota Systems

Cops actually have a quota for the number of Terry Stops, traffic stops, arrests, etc.?  Go figure.  Aren’t all governmental interventions into our privacy supposed to be supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause?  That’s certainly the Constitutional standard, but it seems not so much reality.

A NYC cop has filed a lawsuit.  Here’s the opening shot:

2. Since 2008, supervisors in the 42nd Precinct have developed and implemented a system of quotas mandating numbers of arrests, summonses, and stop-and-frisks (with one supervisor describing stop-and-frisks as being “worth their weight in gold”). As part of the regime for enforcing these quotas, supervisors have developed a detailed monitoring system that includes computer reports that use color coding to categorize officers in terms of their compliance with quotas. Current reports use black ink to identify officers who are meeting quotas, silver ink to identify officers who are meeting only some quotas, and red ink to identify officers who are not meeting quotas. Officers in the precinct are constantly pressured to meet the quotas, and those do not are subject to punishment including undesirable assignments, the loss of overtime, denial of leave, separation from partners, and poor evaluations.

This doesn’t help community relations.

Do you think it’s limited to NYC?  Not a chance.  Perhaps in rural areas such as mine, the quota adjusts – traffic stops for speeding and DUIs – but they continue to exist.  And, I suggest, little can be done to stop it.  If cops are driving the roads on routine patrol and one seems to get a lot more DUIs than the rest – and the DUIs stick – then maybe he’s just more observant.  Maybe we need to give him a medal or a pay raise or a promotion.  So then the other cops become more observant in order to advance their careers.

It’s a tough situation.  I remember a young guy years ago that said he wanted to plead guilty.  “I didn’t do anything, but no one will believe me.”  I did, but there was no way to prove it in light of the signed-and-sealed police affidavit.  The kid was toast.

Does that suggest that cops are dirty?  First, let’s distinguish between a cop enriching himself and one racking up arrests.  A “dirty cop” is one that busts a drug dealer, pockets the money, and lets the guy go.  That’s pathetic.  Ah, but is it really so much of a difference when a cop initiates traffic stops without probable cause when he knows it will advance his career?  I don’t think so.  It just feels cleaner to the cop.  He sleeps better at night.  It’s easier on the conscious to accept the increased take-home pay which results from the totality of his job performance than to stuff the dealer cash into the shoe box kept hidden in his mother’s house.  But dirt is dirt.

Now let me be clear about something.  I have enormous respect for cops.  Their job is dangerous, and they accept it.  The law often works against them.  I knew a Philly cop that told me about being spit on by young punks – and he had to take it.  That’s harsh.  That should never happen.  And of all the cops I’ve worked with over the years, I can only say that two were dirty.  One of them I was able to nail for perjury.  The other kept a distance.  But I firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of cops are honest and try to do the best job that they can.  And I detest when cops are put on trial for the split-second decisions that they must make to protect themselves and the public only to have some second-by-second review of their actions trashed for the world to see.  It’s not fair.  They’re not perfect.  Neither are the rest of us.

Concerning quotas, however, how many of you believe that they do not exist?  Raise your hands.  I don’t see any.  Wait, one hand.  What do you do for a living, sir?  You’re a cop?  Too funny.  Put you’re hand down.

Of course quotas exist.  The police have budgets just like the rest of us.  Traffic tickets and asset seizures are revenue.  Of course the precinct is going to encourage behavior and commit resources to revenue-generating activities.  But when those street stops and traffic stops are initiated without a constitutional foundation – and then are compounded by an Affidavit of Probable Cause that claims facts that did not exist which, if they did, would make the stop acceptable – now we have a problem.

Now we have a dirty cop.

I remember talking with a client recently.  “It’s not the facts as you know them to be.  It’s not the truth.  It’s what you can prove.”  That’s unfair when a cop lies.  How do you disprove it?  As my young client referenced above said, sometimes there’s no point in trying.

But let me share this … cops make mistakes, too.  Having raised kids and practiced law, I’ve spent plenty of time spotting incomplete stories and flat-out lies.  Just because the cop claims something doesn’t make it true.  Good lawyering can often find the loose thread.  Pull on that and perhaps the entire story unravels.

If a cop has set you up, get a litigator on your side.  Don’t roll over.

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

View all posts by Clyde

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