by Claire Bernish
Effectively annihilating law enforcement claims writing tickets and arresting people are matters of public safety, a Florida police department has been caught red-handed holding a contest offering a “reward” to the officer who generated the most citations and arrests.
Last month, as an internal memo obtained by Channel 9 revealed, the Winter Springs Police Department held this reward-based citation-production contest, likely to generate a bit of extra revenue by commandeering people as often as possible through legal state extortion.
Winter Springs police insisted in a statement to Channel 9 the memorandum was “meant to promote teamwork and camaraderie,” and should not be equated with any sort of “quota” system.
As Channel 9 reported, “More than 100 citations, warnings and arrests were made during the weekend of Sept. 10. A handwritten memo titled ‘Delta Shift Weekend Competition’ offered ‘points’ for everything from a written warning to DUI arrests that weekend. The ‘winner’ would get to float for a pay period and also a ‘surprise.’”
Jeff Lotter, a former Orange County Sheriff’s deputy and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who now works as a traffic attorney, admitted to the station officer discretion would likely be affected by the promise of a reward.
“I think a quota has a negative connotation: Meet this standard or you’re punished,” Lotter explained. “This is the inverse of that. The winner gets a reward, but it has the same effect.”
Quotas are, in fact, illegal in the State of Florida — but are often imposed in surreptitious methods to ensure ‘productivity’ and, as mentioned, increased revenue for a department.
“Does it happen in some places? Yeah, I’m sure it does,” Chuck Wexler, Police Executive Research Forum executive director told NPR of quota systems last year.
“On the one hand, there is an understandable desire to have productivity from your officers. But telling them that you want to arrest x number of people, you have to cite x number of people, it just encourages bad performance on the part of officers.”
Or, more accurately, bad behavior.
As Lotter noted of the Winter Park contest, some of the contest-induced September citations might have otherwise been mere warnings — in other words, for the duration of the contest, the police officers probably victimized only marginally guilty individuals.
“There are multiple citations issued to one driver,” he explained. “Generally you think about a major violation being issued, and warnings after that, so it definitely raises some questions.”
Channel 9 reported a single driver was issued a “$206 ticket for speeding, a separate $116 fine for failing to change his address on his license and a third fine of $166 for open container.”
Another received a $116 ticket for lacking proof of insurance and one for $131 for speeding — after having exceeded the speed limit by just 9 miles per hour.
Such ordinarily-illegitimate — or at least highly questionable — fines don’t lend to confidence in policing, especially given the current evaporation of trust between law enforcement and the American public.
“If citizens believe that tickets are being issued or arrests are being made for reasons other than the goal of law enforcement, which is about public safety, then their trust in the legitimacy of the system is really eroded,” co-chairwoman of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Laurie Robinson, told NPR.
In the statement justifying the contest to Channel 9, the Winter Park Police Department said:
“After receiving your inquiry, we discovered the document in question was drafted during the period of one weekend in September by a sergeant as a way to promote teamwork within her individual squad. The context of the document was meant as a way to encourage camaraderie among her officers. It does not amount to an enforcement quota.”
“Even despite statutory prohibitions, the Winter Springs Police Department has not and will not sanction enforcement quotas of any kind. In addition to crime prevention programs, proactive traffic enforcement is just one goal of reducing crime within any jurisdiction and we are continually committed to that cause. We will investigate this matter further and take remedial action as deemed necessary through that investigation.”
So, essentially this Florida police department recognizes quotas as illegal, has found a way to thwart the law, and will investigate itself for any wrongdoing — undoubtedly finding nothing untoward in the arbitrary increase in tickets and arrests, even of potentially innocent people.
“I think they know they’re in the gray area,” Lotter said, “and I would encourage them to dismiss these violations.”
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