Saturday, July 24, 2021

A Quota System with a Moving Target

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the law is pliable, too, especially when talking about numbers. I know I promised I'd have more to say about what we learned from Thursday night's special called meeting of the Richardson City Council, and I promise I will still get to that, but first I have to talk about the written report itself, which wasn't available to the public until after the meeting.

Officer Walker alleges that the City is illegally using quotas to evaluate and discipline patrol officers. Specifically, Officer Walker alleges that patrol officers are threatened with punishment for not making enough arrests, writing enough tickets, and making enough citizen contacts. Officer Walker further alleges that the Department seeks to disguise these quotas as averages and productivity requirements.

As I understand Officer Walker's case, bi-monthly evaluations would be scored as "needs improvement" if an officer's numbers were lower than the sector average on stops, citations, and arrests. To me, that's a quota system, plain and simple. It may not be illegal, depending on how creatively a court interprets the law, but to non-lawyers like me, it's a quota system. It's a worse quota system than if they just set a hard number because you can never know what the average is going to be until after the month is over.

I know the investigator hired by the City of Richardson saw the situation differently. Listening to him defend the City's quota system (the system "wasn't bean counting, but it was number counting"), I had a flashback to President Trump's defense of his Ukraine phone call ("perfect", "very normal", "the most innocent phone call"). By the way, I'm going to keep calling it a quota system; I just won't call it an illegal quota system anymore. After all, Trump's phone call might not have been "perfect" as he claimed, but he was still acquitted by the US Senate and the City might very well be acquitted by the State of Texas. Instead of illegal, let's call it a quota system with a moving target.

But Officer Walker was right about everything except maybe her legal analysis. Based on the written report of the investigation by the City of Richardson's own hired investigator, it's hard for me to see the situation any other way than how the report says that Officer Walker described it above. Just strike her word "illegally". It's still a quota system with a moving target.

While the Department does use statistics to determine the productivity of its patrol officers, there is no evidence that the Department requires a predetermined or specified number of any type of activity, including traffic citations.

The report states that "statistics" are used to compare officers, but not a "predetermined or specified number." In other words, mash enough numbers together and suddenly it's no longer a specific number and you're home free. Use an "average" and it's no longer a specific number. Tomayto, tomahto.

But you can't tell officers they need to issue, say, thirty to forty citations a month. That's a range. It's predetermined. It's specific. That would be an illegal quota. That never happened, right?

Patrol officers interviewed advised that they had been told, not by command staff, but by senior officers and even by training officers, that if they wrote thirty to forty citations per month they would not get spoken to about the number of citations they write.

Well, OK, I guess it did happen. I am not a lawyer, but thirty citations per month might seems like a pretty specific number to me, but apparently, it's not. Maybe it's that range of numbers that makes it non-specific. Again, tomayto, tomahto.

...the focus is on productivity. The number of traffic citations issued by a patrol officer is one of many factors used as a means of determining whether a patrol officer is remaining busy.

So maybe the investigator agrees that officers are measured on the number of citations they issue, but if that's not the sole measure, then it's OK. Is that the argument now?

Or maybe, the number of traffic citations is just part of "productivity" that is the real focus. Is there an exception in state law if the count of citations is used for a putatively good purpose, like a productivity measure, and not for a bad purpose like revenue enhancement? Does that keep it legal? Don't call it a ticket quota, Call it a productivity measure and the City is home free? I don't see the distinction in the law myself. If it works that way, we are back to tomayto, tomahto again.

But why is "productivity" the measure anyway? Is "remaining busy" really the goal here? Isn't the real goal public safety? How do you measure that? Is "productivity" a good proxy for "public safety"? There's an old management rule: beware what you measure — that's what you'll get. Measure "productivity" by traffic stops, warnings, and citations and your officers will optimize traffic stops, warnings, and citations, regardless of whether they have any positive impact on public safety. It's an odd sort of measure where improving one number (officer productivity) makes the City's overall crime statistics look worse (e.g., more speeding). Find a better way to measure public safety.

Enough. As Councilmember Janet DePuy put it with satisfaction, this report puts this complaint to bed. DePuy is right, at least as far as the City Council is concerned. Officer Walker and I might not like the process used, the legal arguments used, the conclusions reached, but it is what it is.

I was more satisfied with how Councilmember Joe Corcoran put it. He said the technical legality of the Richardson Police Department's practices are one thing. Whether those practices need review and improvement is another thing altogether. Chief Gary Tittle himself apparently saw the need for that already and ended the council meeting by announcing changes to the way the department will conduct bi-monthly inspections. The department will change to a quarterly coaching session using a broad number of statistical categories. The coaching will be consistent across all shifts and all supervisors in patrol.

So, no admission of illegality, but a commitment to change the system to make it better. Maybe we should take that as a minor victory for Officer Walker. Time will tell. It would have been nice if the City Council had asked Chief Tittle to return in, say, six months and brief the City Council on how his reforms have been received by the rank and file. We'll probably hear that regardless.

OK, I still promise another part to my own report, one focusing on things we learned about our City Council. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

ginnylaugh said...

"Is "productivity" a good proxy for "public safety"? There's an old management rule: beware what you measure — that's what you'll get. Measure "productivity" by traffic stops, warnings, and citations and your officers will optimize traffic stops, warnings, and citations, regardless of whether they have any positive impact on public safety."

Brilliant. Thank you.