by Steven Betz
It is no secret to anyone working in law enforcement, whether as an officer out in the field or as a supervisor, that numbers are important. Productivity is the single-greatest measure for determining whether an officer rises or falls during his law enforcement career. An officer’s numbers or “stats” provide an objective measurement of how productive or proactive an officer out in the field is for management to use and review. However, the law is clear: Forcing arrest or citation quotas upon officers is expressly forbidden under California law (Cal. Veh. Code § 41602 (West 2011)).
Unfortunately for the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department, this was a lesson in law that was learned the hard way . . . with a $2 million jury verdict for two LAPD officers.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported on a jury trial that ended in the above-mentioned award for two officers after the jury found that LAPD forced the officers into complying with a ticket quota and for retaliating against the officers after they complained of the quota. According to the LA Times, in 2006 LAPD began enforcing an 18-ticket per day quota for officers within the traffic division. The number of tickets an officer wrote was recorded in their performance evaluations. According to the plaintiff-officers, supervisors ranked officers against each other based on the number of tickets they wrote and cars they impounded. LAPD argued that there was no official quota, rather the 18 ticket language was to be seen as a goal for officers to reach.
The dispute over the quota (or goal, depending on your perspective) resulted in an agreement between union leaders and management, which reasserted a ban on quotas and apparently ended the 18-ticket requirement. However, two LAPD officers filed suit that same year, alleging they had been punished because of the quota due to “bogus performance reviews, threats of reassignment, and other forms of harassment” after they blew the whistle to commanding officers regarding the quota.
At trial, the Los Angeles City Attorney argued, as did LAPD, that the 18-number was not a quota, but rather a broad goal for officers to obtain. However, the officers testified that they would be sent to specific neighborhoods where they would be more likely to catch motorists committing moving violations. While this clearly is not illegal, it reinforced the belief that reaching the 18-ticket target was more important than other aspects of their job. Eleven of twelve jurors sided with the officers, concluding that they were retaliated against for their complaining about the quotas.
The case reinforces an important rule in law enforcement; one that officers should be well aware of: Arrest and citation quotas are illegal (Veh. Code § 41602). Additionally, officers should be aware that the law also forbids departments from using the number of arrests made or citations issued “as the sole criterion for promotion, demotion, dismissal, or the earning of any benefit provided by the agency” (Cal. Veh. Code § 41603 (West 2011)). Thus, departments may not require officers to make a certain number of arrests or citations, nor can they use arrest and citation numbers as the sole reason for demotion or advancement. Officers should be wary of department policies that encourage reaching a certain “goal” and require officers to hit specific numbers. While management will often want to encourage productivity, using quotas is expressly forbidden under California law and, as in the case of LAPD, can result in extreme penalties for cities and law enforcement agencies.