Howard chief cancels policy

Some officers felt commanders had put quota on drunken-driving arrests, traffic stops

February 18, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS | MELISSA HARRIS,SUN REPORTER

The Howard County Police Department instituted rules during the past three months that some officers perceived as requiring them to make three traffic stops a shift and an average of 1 1/2 drunken-driving arrests each month -- a practice that experts say can lead to unwarranted arrests and ineffective policing.

Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay canceled the short-lived policy yesterday after learning about it from The Sun the day before. Up until then, Livesay said, he had not seen the written agreement between commanders and patrol supervisors dated Nov. 22 that included consequences, such as warnings and additional performance evaluations, for patrol officers who did not meet the drunken-driving arrest and traffic-stop "goals."

Livesay also said he was not aware that the effort, led by one of his top-level commanders, was being perceived as a quota by some rank-and-file officers.

"I'm sure that it was never intended to be a quota," Livesay said. "But I can see how it did come across as mandatory enforcement to some officers."

Livesay said he was "uncomfortable" with his department's agreement because it assigned specific enforcement numbers to narrow time frames, such as 12-hour shifts or a month.

He said that managers must have some way of measuring performance, but that his 148 patrol officers should be judged by enforcement averages over much longer periods of time, such as a year, and that performance in other areas must also be taken into account.

"We're glad to hear that the chief immediately rescinded the program, but we're also alarmed that it was implemented in the first place," said Meredith Curtis, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. "Community safety is not helped by saying that you have to pull over a set number of people within a 12-hour period."

Livesay, who is considering a run for County Council, ordered his labor-management committee yesterday to review the way the department sets performance objectives for its officers and to issue recommendations in 30 to 45 days, in time for supervisor training.

County Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, and police union President James F. Fitzgerald praised the decision.

"I was surprised to see the numbers laid out in such a way," Guzzone said. "I was pleased to hear the chief took quick action."

The General Assembly is considering a ban on quotas for arrests or traffic tickets.

A similar bill passed the House of Delegates last year but failed on the Senate floor because time ran out, said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Cecil County Republican who is sponsoring legislation in the House.

The issue gained prominence after the public learned in March that a Baltimore police lieutenant had started his own performance evaluation system that assigned officers points for traffic tickets and gun arrests, among other items.

The Baltimore Police Department also had instituted an agencywide performance evaluation system that required officers to tally their enforcement statistics. Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm canceled that portion of the program within days and ordered a review that concluded months later that the department didn't have quotas.

Smigiel said his bill gives extra assurance to citizens that they will not be stopped or arrested because of "undue pressure to meet some artificial quota" and "administrative bullying."

When told about Howard County's now-defunct policy, Smigiel sarcastically responded: "Based on everything I've heard, stuff like this doesn't exist. That's what the opposition has been saying: `Police departments don't have quotas. There's not need for it.'"

Livesay said the written agreement that patrol sergeants signed was unusual for his department because it specified numbers for traffic stops and drunken-driving arrests, and required a signature.

He pointed out that the document did give supervisors flexibility, calling the enforcement standards "goals" to "strive" to meet.

His greatest concern, Livesay said, was that flexibility was sometimes lost when patrol sergeants explained the policy via e-mail to officers lower in the chain of command.

Although Livesay said that he had not seen those e-mails until Thursday, he said that he was not surprised to learn that his commanders were trying to improve traffic enforcement, which has been one of his top priorities since he announced a traffic safety initiative in January 2005.

The chief said that he and his top commanders are concerned that drunken-driving arrests in Howard County dropped 6.5 percent from 2004 to 2005, from 1,158 to 1,083. Documentation of traffic stops also dropped slightly during the period.

Ralph Taylor, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University in Philadelphia, said policies that assign across-the-board benchmarks on arrests or tickets are inefficient in solving those problems.

"The Howard County Police Department has a bunch of information on exactly where these kinds of drunken-driving and speeding issues are happening," Taylor said. "Rather than imposing general guidelines, the department needs to concentrate its manpower in the places where they've got the biggest problem. Doing otherwise is not thinking strategically."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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