Police Quotas: Symptom of a Broken System

In Texas, quotas are illegal, as stated in Texas Transportation Code – Section 720.002. Prohibition On Traffic-Offense Quotas. As such, no department officially has them anymore, but in some form or another, most, if not all do maintain them.

Why Are Quotas Illegal Anyway?
In short, like the military, police services are best unused, if reasonably possible. The use, threat, or implied threat of disciplinary action against officers for a drop in the number of citations, arrests, or other quantifiable activity twists our mission of “protect & serve” into an exercise in government power to “oppress & enslave” so to speak. That is to say, using police powers just because the government can. If officers are exercising police powers to detain, cite, or arrest citizens, for any reason other than in response to the direct observation of possible criminal activity, or suspicion of criminal activity reported by a citizen, combined with the goal of serving the greater good of the community, then that is an illegitimate use of government’s monopoly on coersive power. AKA: Tyranny.

What’s The Worst That Could Really Happen?At best, quotas can pressure officers to issue citations for valid, yet borderline violations of the law, such as driving with a burnt-out brake light bulb, where a warning would be more reasonable and ultimately beneficial to the community. At worst, quotas can pressure officers to fabricate evidence of offenses or conceal exonerating evidence, possibly leading to the fining, arrest, or imprisonment of innocent people. Worse still, the righteous resistance of citizens to such misapplication of government’s coersive power can lead to the serious injury or death of innocents.

So Why Do Quotas Continue?
Because politicians demand “proof” that officers are actively seeking out criminals and working to improve public safety, in a form that they can understand and show to voters. AKA: Numbers. Unfortunately, because the higher-ups in most departments are at-will political appointees, who can lose their jobs if their political bosses have a hissy-fit. The higher-ups then pressure their subordinates to take actions which will produce those numbers, regardless of the impact those actions might actually have on crime or public safety, then do their best to draw correllations between those numbers and crime stats, for the purpose of securing their job from politicos who refuse to accept that the complex nature of crime makes it nearly impossible to break down into simple cause & effect.

If Quotas Are Illegal, How Can Supervisors Enforce Quotas?
Since quotas are illegal, supervisors simply point out numbers from the previous month compared to the previous year, then express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the recent numbers, indirectly telling officers if they have met the undefined quota or not. In order to conceal any correlation between “discipline” (read: punishment) and quotas, supervisors simply adopt a heavier-handed response to other violations of policy, which would normally be ignored or corrected with lower level discipline. If no real violations can be found, supervisors can use claims that an officer’s action violate vague and subjective policies regarding such things as “judgment”, which boil down to the supervisor differing in opinion on how the officer should have acted.

Can’t Officers Meet Expectations Through Legitimate Means?
This largely depends on their supervisor. If the supervisor has been on the streets recently, has realistic expectations, and has a backbone to stand up to the politicos demands for unrealistic or irrelevent output, then yes. If they’ve been in an ivory tower, then no. Unfortunately, officers have no control over how many times a day they come into contact with with real scumbags or quality evidence to support a citation or arrest, all they can do is bust their hump searching. Sometimes you find something, sometimes you don’t. This lack of control, when combined with a lack of understanding by or flat-out petty supervisors who have the power to punish them, can cause the officer to start to fear that they will be fired or otherwise punished in a way that will detrimentally effect their family. When an officer feels pressure to produce numbers or let his family suffer, he can begin to rationalize strict enforcement on minor violations, questionable enforcement based on less than clear evidence, or even outright illegal enforcement based on assumptions about the suspect rather than evidence. In other words, the officer putting the screws to you unjustly, or for apparently petty or reasons, might not be a badge-heavy a-hole, so much as a victim of a broken system, just like you!

Why Not Just Measure Legitimate Police Goals?
Law enforcement is not like a typical company, where you can count the number of widgets each employee assembles or sells, and calculate the cost and profitability of each product line. Ultimately, the goal of every police department is to prevent crimes & injuries within their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to count things that don’t happen (like jobs “saved”), and all but impossible to accurately determine why things that happened started or stopped happening, because there are just too many variables to account for. To make matters worse, police typically have no influence, let alone control over most of those variables. In short, what is wrong with our police departments is typically caused by interference by political figures and the vulnerability of police supervisors to the whims of those politicos.

Have you ever found yourself being cited or arrested for something that seemed petty or highly questionable? What ultimately happened to the charge? Have you ever accused an officer of trying to fulfill a quota? How did they respond?

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