City police directive looks like arrest quota

Two-per-week standard is in memo to one district

July 30, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

A directive issued to some Baltimore police officers appears to order them to meet quotas by making at least two arrests per week - something critics call an example of how city police are pushing too hard to improve their crime statistics.

The two-arrests-per-week standard was laid out in a memorandum last month to Southwestern District officers who work the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift. It also establishes weekly minimum enforcement numbers for several other types of police action, including car stops, stop and frisks, curfew violations and parking tickets.

"You have made your supervisors look very good to the command staff both in the [Southwest District] and downtown," states the memo obtained by The Sun. "However, we still have a few of you who do not wish to perform like the rest of us, thus, this memo."

Though the directive is relatively low level - coming from three sergeants who supervise about three dozen officers - local police union President Dan Fickus said department leadership is responsible for creating systemic pressure to lower crime numbers and increase arrest numbers.

"This is pressure by command to produce more statistical data," Fickus said. "Everything is geared to statistics, statistics, statistics."

Police officials counter that it's an isolated memo, issued unbeknownst to Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.

Law enforcement officials said the June 17 memo - titled "Standards of Performance" - highlights the difficult balance police departments must strike between demanding productivity and requiring specific levels of activity, which can cause officers to act for the purpose of creating statistics.

Clark could not be reached for comment. His spokesman said the commissioner supports policing to prevent crime, not quotas, and that he has spoken to district leaders about the memo and ordered it rewritten without numbers.

"The commissioner understands the sergeants were trying to motivate their members and perhaps they went too far," spokesman Matt Jablow said.

"It's not like it came down from a major. The commissioner of the Police Department does not tell sergeants how to carry out their responsibilities," Jablow said.

An officer on the shift, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the directive has not played out like a quota because the sergeants have not enforced it that way. He said a vast majority of the officers support the sergeants but that a few officers refuse to do substantial work.

The order was largely intended, the officer said, so that officers would take statistical credit for actions they were already making. He said the officers were told that if they accurately reported better statistics for their actions, they would be able to give commanders a better picture of their productivity.

Although emphasizing quality over quantity, Clark has continued the statistics-based initiatives that are a cornerstone of Mayor Martin O'Malley's city government. Police operate under a Comstat model, where crime is mapped and district commanders are held responsible for developing immediate strategies to battle trends.

Since O'Malley took office in late 1999, police have compared each year's statistics to the previous year and to 1999, constantly advertising the downturn in violent crime.

"Look at the tremendous gains we've made," Jablow said, noting the improvements since 1999 and attributing much of the success to Comstat.

The number of homicides per year, which is used as a standard barometer of violent crime, has dipped from 305 in 1999 to 271 last year - though last year was a slight increase over 2002.

The Baltimore Police Department has more than 3,000 sworn officers. Some act in supervisory and other roles, making no arrests. But one officer, who was lauded for his efforts, made 247 arrests last year.

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said he doesn't believe the recent memo is something Clark would endorse.

"I hope it's an isolated case," he said. "We don't want to get into numbers. We want to get into quality."

John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Eugene O'Donnell, a former New York City police officer and prosecutor, said it's possible for lower-ranking managers, such as sergeants, to misinterpret the message of a large organization's leaders.

However, he said, it's easy to link this memo to statistically driven policing methods employed by Baltimore police.

"They must believe there's some sort of incentive to have numbers," O'Donnell said. "This is a problem you can have with Comstat."

The memo was written by Sgts. Gregory Robinson, Gregory Eames and Richard Worley Jr. The district commander, Maj. Deborah Owens, declined to comment on the memo and said the department spokesman speaks for her and the three sergeants who wrote the memo.

The memo tells officers to stop and frisk 10 people and stop 10 cars, among other weekly requirements.

The memo pins the activity to combating two problems: stolen autos and burglaries.

"It is proven that most of this crime is committed by juveniles who should not be on the street in the first place," the memo states. "Therefore, we have come up with a standard of performance to combat these problems."

Policing by the numbers

Some Southwestern District officers were ordered to meet the following weekly minimums:

Citizen contacts 15

Car stops 10

Stop and frisks 10

Curfew violations 2

Criminal citations 2

Bike stops 2

Parking tickets 2

Moving violations 2

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.