Please welcome my friend “Curvy McLegalbriefs” to TTAC; she’s contributed various background items and photos in the past but this is her first article from scratch for us. Miss McLegalbriefs has been a working attorney for some time now and also has a singing voice that is equal in range to mine but, rather embarrassingly for both of us, starts and ends about a half step below. — JB
The use of quotas in law enforcement has made the news again, but this time it’s a cop, not a citizen, speaking out. More specifically, a police officer claims he was fired for speaking out against quotas instituted by a new chief in 2010.
The town in question is Auburn, Alabama. The city proper has a population of almost 57,000, and Auburn University has approximately 25,000 students. The greater metropolitan area is creeping toward half a million residents. One would assume Auburn is NOT like The Truman Show, and that nonresidents are free to drive through town and break the law, if they so choose.
Obviously the jurisdiction of a town cop is the city limits. So what was this egregious quota imposed on these trusted men and women in uniform? One hundred contacts. Per month. Or approximately 5 per officer per shift. “Contacts” includes tickets, warnings, arrests, and even field interviews.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that my brother is a state patrolman. He’s one of the good guys, TTAC readers; I promise! (I, too, have served for a number of years in law enforcement, but at the federal level, and not as a uniformed officer. It’s my job to make sure my agency follows the law.) I have had the pleasure of going on more than one ride-along with my brother. He patrols the highways, in one of very few unmarked cars remaining in his state. Unless you do something really stupid, have an obvious violation (he is in a state where seatbelt is a primary offense, and after all the years he has been on the road, his ability to see a seatbelt violation across a 4-lane is truly remarkable), or his NCIC terminal tells him something about you that means you shouldn’t be on the road, he will not bother you unless you exceed the speed limit by at least 13 mph. In an average day, he probably has 10+ contacts. (Attempts to get an accurate number for him went unanswered…because he was working.) Going solely on my experiences in the car with him, I have to think that an average of 5 contacts a day is totally reasonable. Especially if it includes warnings and field interviews. So what is the real problem here?
According to the article, the quota requirement means that in a town of 55,000 (college students, who probably provide plenty of opportunities for law enforcement contact — especially on Saturdays during football season — apparently do not count), there are 72,000 mandated contacts in a year. One hundred per month is 1200/year. Doing some division here leads me to believe there are the equivalent of 60 full time police officers in Auburn. Supplemented, I presume, by an independent Auburn University police force.
Auburn PD has 1 officer for every 917 residents. To compare, NYPD (the largest police department in the country) has 1 uniformed officer for every 237 residents. Seattle boasts 1 officer for every 488 expensive coffee lovers. Daytona Beach, which is comparable in size to Auburn, has 1 officer per 253 NASCAR fans. Even Dubuque, IA, also comparable in size and not exactly a hotbed of criminal activity, has one sworn officer for every 632 hearty souls. Auburn’s police-to-population ratio is, in some cases, vastly out of step with other cities.
I cannot imagine that the officers in the departments mentioned above, and those across the nation, are expected to perform, to use a football analogy, an average of less than five law enforcement moves per shift. Maybe Auburn is Seahaven. Maybe even when school is in session. But somehow, I doubt it. If there really is so little legitimate police work that an officer cannot be expected to combine traffic stops, case interviews, and arrests at a pace of at least 1 every ninety-six minutes without resorting to “finding violations” or “bullying”, perhaps Auburn should consider reducing the force to a more appropriate size. With the constant growth and militarization of America’s police departments, a reduction in force would be a welcome change.
There are many complaints that can be made about law enforcement officers. Some of these guys (and gals) are complete and utter assholes. Others perform with honor, taking to heart their oath to serve and protect. The job should never be about quotas, especially when the department benefits from the revenue (which is not always the case — my brother’s DPS receives nothing from the tickets they write). Quotas, where they exist, should never lead to a situation where you end up with “a policy that encourages police to create petty crimes and ignore serious crimes”. But a quota set this low leads me to believe there are issues other than a minimal amount of contacts to be addressed within the department, like laziness. Unless this is a town with ridiculously low crime and a lot of kittens in need of rescue from trees, it is my guess the people of Auburn are better off without this guy in uniform.