You know that feeling you get when driving and you look in the mirror and see a Motor-Cycle cop behind you? How fast am I going? Am I on the phone? Is he actually going to pull me over? Please don’t pull me over. I think most of us have experienced that. Sometimes we get stopped and sometimes not. Sometimes we get a ticket and sometimes not. Maybe just a warning and a sigh of relief. Well, if you drive in Irvine don’t expect the warning. Expect to be stopped. Expect a citation. The Traffic Bureau is in full force. And with good reason.
Recently I made the acquaintance of an Irvine Police Officer. At one time I wanted to be a cop so I have always been interested in hearing them talk about their work. As we talked policing I began to notice I was hearing a lot of enthusiam about Police work in general but a lot of complaining about doing it in Irvine? What was the trouble?
This Officer is a seasoned veteran and he began to relax and share his concerns. “It’s the leadership. There isn’t any.” I pressed him for more. It seems that Officer morale is very low. There are a variety of reasons for low police morale in the so called Safest City in America. So I thought maybe it would make a good story. Would he be willing to discuss the Police Department and its problems and let me publish them. The answer was an immediate yes, with one condition: his name could not be revealed. Fear of profesional reprisal was a great concern. “The Department keeps its problems on the inside but then doesn’t address them unless forced to.” Well, could I be put in touch with other Officers who would be willing to speak openly. I didn’t want to write from just one perspective. One cop complaining could just be sour grapes but several might be something else indeed.
As I spoke with different Officers at different stages of their careers the conversation turned away from “Safest City” to the low morale of the Officers. Once it was agreed that I would not use their names they were more candid with their discussion. They do not feel that leadership in the Department looks out for their interests.
The most consistent issue raised is the alleged existence of a ticket quota system. Both departmental policy as well as State law prohibit the institution of ticket quotas. And while officially there may not be one the officers tell me there essentially is one in effect. The Traffic Bureau is apparently driven hard by its command to write more and more tickets. Of course one would expect traffic officers to be expected to write tickets. What would not be expected would be a system that drives officers to compete with one another for the distiction of writing the most or derided for writing the least. My sources tell me that is exactly what is occuring in Irvine. I was told they keep a “stat board” in the Traffic Bureau that displays officers names, number of citations written, average per day, etc. It allows them all to see who is doing the “best” and who is doing the “worst.” They tell me this is contrary to Departmental Policy and takes away from their effectiveness. Officer discretion is out. The mantra, “write more citations” is in.
In all fairness though one must ask what does the Chief and his staff have to say about all of this? Phone calls to the Chief’s office and the Public Information Officer were not returned. Granted I’m just a Blogger and not from the Times or the Register but since the Department employs a full time Public Information Officer I had hoped to hear back. However, I tried emailing the Chief himself and to his credit he emailed me back right away and said he would be out of the office and would get back to me and answer some of my questions in a couple of days. Again, to his credit, he did.
Chief Maggard, who has lead the department since 2003, is very proud of the safest city recordand “the fact it has maintained the lowest crime rate of any large city in the nation for the past 8 years.” I asked him about the alleged quota system. I asked the following: “One complaint I have heard from within the ranks is that Traffic Officers are being pressured to the point of a “quota system.” It has been alleged that not only does one of your Lieutenants push on ticket quotas they post a “leader board” in the Traffic Department like one might expect to see in a sales department; including who has written the most tickets, average citations a day etc. for all to see. Are you aware of this? Doesn’t this violate policy? Clearly such a display is not for statistical purposes but for the driving of competition and something I would think the Chief would not condone if made aware?”
The Chief responded to this query. Sort of. “As far as the existence of a traffic ctation quota system within our Traffic Bureau or anywhere else in the Department, I can assure you it does not exist. In fact, the following policy explicitly prohibits such a system.” He then cites the vehicle code and departmental policy, which in fact, does prohibit the institution of a “quota system.” However, the citation as well as the answer given conveniently skips over the existence or not of a “leader board”, well, see for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
The chief thanked me and hoped that our communication, “helps address some of your questions and clarifies any misconceptions.” Well, yes and no. I am definitely wondering what was a misconception, especially with regard to the “quota system” that Officers tell me exists in a de-facto state if not in official policy. .
So back to the rank and file officers. Is the board that big of a deal? Do they real press on the tickets that much? All of the officers I spoke with agreed that indeed they are pressured to write more and more. Apparently not long ago there was a big push to write cell phone tickets. Irvine, the officers tell me, wrote more cell phone tickets than any City in the County as well as other Counties. One officer said he was so fed up with the whole push he didn’t write a single one during this period. A solitary and quiet protest.
One email exchange with the Chief was not a fair counterbalance to the officers. Most workers complain about their bosses. So, I looked for another authority to speak with. A manager, yet closer to the ground level than the Chief’s office. Everyone pointed toward Lieutenant Hallinan of the Traffic Bureau. As a matter of fact my sources told me HE was the man behind the “stat board” and the one who pressed so hard about citations. Well, I wrote to the Lieutenant. I shared with him that the existence of a de-facto quota system was being raised and would he address it. I asked him the questions I posed to the Chief adding to it that he had been named personally as being behind the board in question. I tried to be as clear and direct as possible: “does such a competetive board with said rankings exist? If it does, was it at your initiation? And finally, depending on the previous answers wouldn’t such a policy be in violation of Departmental policy such as: Operational responsibilities General Order 2.00.0 2.050 Field Supervisor (Sergeant)…paragraph 8, sergeants shall not, through expression or implication, emphasize a minimum productivity standard or “quota” of arrests, citations or other like enforcement activities. Sergeants should ensure that each employee’s performance reflects a balance between enforcement and service consistent with the agency’s mission, vision and values.” I thanked himin advance and waited for a reply. After a day I sent it again with a note asking him to at least verify receiving it. He quickly and graciously replied. He even apologized for not getting back to me sooner. Apparently he is moving from the traffic Bureau to the Office of Profesional Standards. He thanked me for my questions and then answered them. Sort of.
“Our work in the Irvine Traffic Bureau is to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors who use our roadways, sidewalks and bike paths. The officers assigned to the Traffic Bureau are expected to work hard each day, effectively utilizing their time to enforce traffic laws, respond to motor related traffic collisions and mitigate traffic issues.”
“We encourage our officers to use their skills and discretion to raise awareness and educate motorists about safe driving habits. We work with a lot of different departments to develop and implement solutions to reduce the likelihood of traffic collisions. We are fortunate to have great cops who play a significant role in enforcing our traffic laws in order to reduce collision related deaths and injuries. Among many goals our officers keepour community safe by removing impaired drivers from our roadways, enforcing seatbelt and car seat laws and citing distracted drivers who share our roadways.”
“As noted, one of the responsibilities of a traffic officer is to enforce the traffic laws. It has been proven that there is a direct corelation between the enforcement of traffic laws and reduction of injuring traffic collisions. Because of our officers outstanding work we have been able to have a reduction in injury traffic collisions in just the past six months.” With that, he thanked and invited me to contact him again if needed. Well, yeah. I got a lot of good information about the traffic bureau and its mission but I seemed to miss an actual answer to my questions.
So, I wrote back and got to the point, “So just to clarify.There is or isn’t a quota?There is or is not the stat leader board I described? And if there is it was or was not your implementation?” Lieutenant Hallinan got back to me and gave me my answers. Sort of.
“I can confirm the Irvine Police Department does not have a quota system. I believe last week Chief Maggard provided you with a copy of our current policy prohibiting quotas.” Indeed he did.
“I can tell you that our police department, like most, keeps detailed statistics as a way to document crime rates, predict criminal activity, measure our effectiveness…our service to the community and to meet the state and federal grant requirements. To help us track these numbers we have several crime analysts who are responsible for maintaining our statistics. In the Traffic Bureau we keep statistics related to factors associated with vehicle collisions, as well as related injuries, deaths and citations.”
Here it comes. “We do have a board in the traffic office to provide us an up-to-date perspective on our activity. I am proud of the work our traffic cops perform each day…they work hard and I want to acknowledge their effort. I am also inspired by the hard work of all of our officers. We have had an increase in overall self- initiated activity and our officers are out in the community making a difference. As you might imagine police work is dynamic and varies day-to-day. Our cops are highly trained, self-motivated and are invested in their profession and to the protection of our community.”
Now it is time to put my Philosophy degree to work and de-construct some of that last paragraph: The board in the traffic office provides an up to date perspective? Don’t the paid statisticians provide that information in a meaningful format? The one that really captures my attention though is: “We have had an increase in overall self-initiated activity…” I’m not surprised given a public performance board. We know who wrote the most citations and the least. Can that purpose be any other than to breed competitiveness as to who can write the most citations? Is there a board for helping old ladies cross the street or pulling up next to a slightly speeding motorist and giving him a look that immediately reduces the speed and increases safety? Not that I have heard about. The officers I spoke with say the days of warnings and discretion are out the window. You want to be treated fairly and advance? Write more tickets.
The Lieutenant is suggesting the board as a helpful visual aid. It reminds me of boards on the walls of elementary classrooms reminding students to behave. So that perhaps one of these:
Is not really much different than one of these:
So either it is a competetive leader board to push the officers of the bureau toward a de-facto if not actual quota system OR it is a juvenile board to remind the “children” whose doing the best. Either way the officers don’t like it and find it and what lies behind it offensive.
This is just one of the areas that officers are concerned about with regard to their leaders. Others concern officer and citizen safety. Perhaps a shameless plug for my next piece, let’s just say it involves one cop breaking the neck of another. Until then, buckle up and drive safely.