Friday, July 23, 2021

Investigator Clears RPD of Illegal Ticket Quotas

In just five minutes, the amount of time members of the public are given to speak during the public comment section of City Council meetings, a 13-year veteran of the Richardson Police, Kayla Walker, kicked off a storm in Richardson in April, charging supervisors in the department of illegally using quotas to evaluate and discipline officers. Thursday night, in a special called session of the Richardson City Council, the public learned the result of the City's investigation into the charge. Spoiler: the City found nothing illegal about its own police department's practices.

Let's rewind. At the time, I wrote that this is "an easy call for me on this one. Yes, for sure the City of Richardson ought to conduct a thorough and independent investigation."

By "thorough" I meant everyone in the department should be interviewed. All documents related to the case should be reviewed. Leads related to the accusations should be followed, regardless whether they directly impact the complainant herself.

By "independent" I meant an investigation by someone who is not paid by the City, neither an employee nor someone being paid by the City. You know, an investigation by someone like the Dallas County District Attorney or the Texas Rangers. It was the FBI investigation that resulted in bribery charges being eventually brought against our former mayor, after the "independent" investigator selected and paid by the City found nothing illegal. Yet the City has gone back to the same law firm to conduct this investigation. It's a law firm that brags about "Proudly Representing Public Entities Across Texas." Note the pride in "Representing" not "Investigating." One of its services is to "Provide a defense in employment-related litigation." As qualified as this law firm is in what they claim to do, this is not the kind of law firm that ought to inspire confidence in the public that we'll get a thorough investigation into potentially illegal activity by the City itself. At the very least, there's an appearance of a conflict of interest here. One could imagine that developing a reputation for tough investigations, for finding illegal behavior on the City's part, might put in jeopardy future business with city governments.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." — Upton Sinclair

Officer Walker said that "I strongly believe most of our front-line supervisors are being pressured to participate in this illegal quota system by command staff members above them." How high does this "quota" scheme go? It's hard to imagine that the Chief of Police Jimmy Spivey wasn't aware. (Coincidentally, he retired at the end of May.) In another controversial case, involving a Richardson police traffic stop that resulted in a federal civil rights lawsuit that's ongoing, The Dallas Morning News reported that Richardson City Manager Dan Johnson vouched for the city's police department, saying "he works closely with the police chief." If that's true, an outsider might presume that the City Manager himself might have been aware of this allegedly illegal "ticket quota system." That could implicate the City Manager. So why didn't he recuse himself from appointing the investigators? Why didn't he turn the whole matter over to an outside agency like the Dallas District Attorney or the Texas Rangers?

The City's own report doesn't address those issues regarding the legitimacy of the investigation itself. Instead, the investigation was very narrowly focused on one employee's own situation and on the legal definition of a "ticket quota system." As for Officer Walker, she declined to participate in the investigation. I'll have more to say on that in another post. As for the legal definition, in Texas it's defined as "a plan to evaluate, promote, compensate, or discipline... a peace officer according to the officer's issuance of a predetermined or specified number of any type or combination of types of traffic citations." The not-guilty verdict hangs on subtle differences between evaluating based on a "predetermined or specified number" and evaluating based on an "average," an average that is recalculated regularly. The investigator himself said, the system used in Richardson "wasn't bean counting; it was number counting." But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before the report, here are questions that I wanted to see answered:

  1. Was requesting an investigation by an independent agency like the Texas Rangers ever considered?

    The question wasn't explicitly answered, but I inferred the answer was no. The written report has been forwarded to the Dallas County District Attorney, but with the City's conclusion that there's nothing illegal here, it's hardly a clarion call for the district attorney's office to investigate.

  2. Was any statistical analysis conducted to see if there is a correlation between individual officers' number of citations/arrests/contacts and the evaluations of those individuals?

    This question wasn't explicitly answered, either, but I inferred the answer is no. The investigator did say he had access to all performance evaluations and looked at some, but only to see if there was evidence of an illegal ticket quota system (again, with that narrow legal definition of such).

  3. How was it decided who to interview? Who was interviewed? How high up the command did the interviews go?

    This question was answered, sort of. The investigator said he interviewed a total of seven people (7). Officer Walker herself declined to be interviewed. He started with the police chief (actually two of them, one outgoing, and the current chief). He interviewed the complainant's sergeant and one other. That's four. He interviewed the president of the police officers association (who is a detective according to the lodge's website). That's five. That leaves two patrol officers, one of whom the investigator said corroborated Walker's claim of an illegal ticket quota system. But the investigator said additional questions to him or her convinced him that the system described was not illegal. Finding no evidence of an illegal system, in his interpretation of the law, he saw no need to continue interviews. By the way, there are about 72 patrol officers in the Richardson Police Department. Not only weren't one-on-one interviews conducted, but a survey wasn't distributed, an anonymous hotline wasn't established, nothing more was done to determine whether there was anything to uncover.

  4. What did the City Manager know and when did he know it?

    Are you kidding? This wasn't answered. There was no hint that anyone thought it was even an appropriate question to consider asking.

  5. What additional legal opinions were sought when interpreting state law regarding illegal quota systems? Did the investigation try to determine whether department policy was above the appearance of a quota system as understood, not in a court of law, but by the average civilian?

    This was answered. The investigator said he conducted his own legal search and turned up no case law. I guess that left him with his own experience to base his interpretation on. He also made it very clear, several times, that he was only asked to look for illegal behavior. Presumably, the notion that the public might have a different opinion about what a ticket quota system is wasn't something he was tasked with considering.

  6. In future, if it looks like a quota system, acts like a quota system, and carries the same consequences as a quota system, what should we call it, if not a quota system?

    We didn't find the answer to that question. Maybe "number counting system"?

So we didn't learn that the investigation revealed that the Richardson Police were operating an illegal ticket quota system. In another post, I'll have more to say about all the things we did learn. Stay tuned.


Joel Montfort said...

I don't know who is more naive in this scenario. The public for thinking our city would actually do a real investigation on itself after Palisades, or the city for thinking we would buy this load of horse manure. Clearly, we need an independent investigation. At this point, I'd say it needs to be much broader.

Kayla Walker said...

I could not agree more with Joel’s comment.

Mark, this is a GREAT read! I’m glad you’re saying everything that we want to. Thank you!!!

Mark Steger said...

"Two whistleblowing Richardson cops say they were frozen out of the department."
This is embarrassing for all involved: the two police officers, their fellow officers, their superiors, the City Manager, the City Council, the residents of Richardson. Settle this already.
"Two whistleblowing Richardson cops say they were frozen out of the department"