As a former Newark police officer, I created many initiatives designed to improve police-community relations, including the viral #HugACop video.
The relationship between the police and the community will always be near and dear to me. When talking about ways to improve those relationships today, it’s common to hear about “alternatives to arrest.”
But before we can have a serious conversation about promoting alternatives to arrest, our legislators need to first deal with police management policies that reduce officer discretion and promote arrests in the first place — arrest quotas.
What are quotas? Generally speaking, arrest quotas are any police department policy, formal or informal, that push an officer to make a criminal or traffic arrest. Alternatively, a quota could come in the form of essentially mandating officers to stop a minimum number of citizens over a period of time.
In police jargon, quotas might be referred to as something more innocuous-sounding, like “performance objectives” or “productivity goals.”
Quotas are generally informal and arbitrary standards. Should an officer not meet the quota (generally measured on a monthly or annual basis), retribution could come in the form of a poor evaluation, threat of termination over a period of time, or reduction in rank or responsibility.
Quotas pose an undervalued threat to our criminal justice system and police-community relations while they remain legal in Delaware.
- The officers on the street and the civilians getting stopped by them generally hate quotas. They rob our highly-trained and highly-educated officers of the discretion they deserve to perform the job. Additionally, quotas transform civilians into a performance measure and potential arrest statistic, as opposed to an American with constitutional rights and protections that should be served and protected by the police.
- Quotas incentivize adversarial encounters between the police and the public over extremely minor infractions. If we think about some of the recent national tragedies involving police use of force across the country, the only generally indisputable fact is that many of them started over extremely minor violations.
- Quotas unfortunately supersede an officer’s discretion to consider an alternative to arrest. Without discretion, officers won’t have the ability to truly consider an alternative to a summons or citation when the pressure from a quota exists.
- Quotas greatly interfere with the priorities of law enforcement. The petty crime of your purse getting stolen from your car competes with the time needed to fulfill a quota. If an officer needs to meet a quota, that will take priority over your purse.
To summarize, quotas put emphasis on the quantity of work performed by law enforcement as opposed to the actual quality of work. Prosecutors (and most likely the public) would much prefer officers to perform quality investigations in order to bring justice to both the offender and victim, as opposed to making arrests or stopping people simply for the sake of making busy work.
Do we have quotas in Delaware? Absolutely.
While finding confirmation of departments having quotas is extremely difficult — making banning them all the more important — this is what I can say for certain: Newport has a quota of 10 tickets a day, high by any metric.
Newark has a contact-per-day quota, along with an “objective” of 6 DUIs a year. In 2013, two senior NPD officers were placed on probationary employment and faced potential termination for not meeting the DUI quota.
While departments that have quotas might deny having one, they will instead refer to having “performance objectives” or “goals.”The end result is the same though. Officers will seek to avoid retribution and make arrests or stops, not due to necessity but out of a desire to mitigate the quota.
Quotas are banned in at least 8 states, including New York, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wyoming, Illinois, and New Jersey. The Illinois State Fraternal Order of Police said it best during a discussion of their quota law in 2014: “Quotas create unnecessary tension between the public and law enforcement. Police want to enforce the laws and prevent criminal offenses but their own judgment is called into question by arbitrary quota policies.”
It is time for Delaware to protect the discretion of our police officers, promote positive police-community relations and ban police quotas.
James Spadola is an Iraq war veteran, former state senate candidate, board member of the Wilmington Housing Authority, and founder of Delaware Law Enforcement for Progress.