Despite Laws And Lawsuits, Quota-Based Policing Lingers The NYPD is denying allegations that officers were forced to make a certain number of warrantless stops, and faced retaliation from superiors when they didn't.
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Despite Laws And Lawsuits, Quota-Based Policing Lingers

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Despite Laws And Lawsuits, Quota-Based Policing Lingers

Despite Laws And Lawsuits, Quota-Based Policing Lingers

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

One of the dirty secrets in law enforcement is quotas. That's when police departments require officers to deliver a set number of tickets or arrests. Police routinely denied using quotas, but critics say that numbers-based policing is real and corrodes the community's relationship with law enforcement. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: New York City police officers generally don't like to talk on the record, especially about a touchy subject like quotas. But Adhyl Polanco is an exception.

OFFICER ADHYL POLANCO: The culture of the department, the way they see, is that you're not working unless you are writing summonses or arresting people.

ROSE: Polanco joined the force in 2005. Pretty quickly, he says, it became clear that his supervisors only cared about two things - tickets and arrests.

POLANCO: I can tell my supervisors that I took three people to the hospital and I saved their lives, that the child that I helped deliver, you know, he's healthy. I can tell them that, but that's not going to cut it.

ROSE: Polanco says there was an unwritten rule that he was expected to get 20 and one - 20 tickets and one arrest, per month. But it was tough to get anyone outside the department to believe him because NYPD officials would always deny there were any quotas. They still do. Here's Commissioner William Bratton in January.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMMISSIONER WILLIAM BRATTON: There is no specific target number that we go for. There are no quotas, if you will.

ROSE: Since taking over the department last year, Bratton has insisted he's more interested in the quality of arrests than the quality. The NYPD declined to comment for this story. Back in 2008, Officer Polanco was determined to expose the department's alleged quota system, so he secretly recorded conversations inside his precinct house in the Bronx.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Next week, it could be 25 and one. It could be 35 and one.

ROSE: Polanco says the man you hear on the tape is a sergeant. He's pushing his officers to get their numbers up. If they don't, he threatens, it could be even worse. The quota could be 25 tickets a month, or 35.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If any of you decide you're going to quit this job (unintelligible) Pizza Hut delivery man, this is what you're going to be doing until that.

ROSE: In other words...

POLANCO: We're going to fire you and you're going to become a Pizza Hut delivery man. You're going to get fired.

ROSE: Now Polanco is suing the NYPD, one of several whistleblower lawsuits under alleged quotas at the department. Arrest and ticket quotas are illegal in several states, including New York, Illinois, California and Florida. But even former law enforcement officials will tell you they still exist.

CHUCK WEXLER: Does it happen in some places? Yeah, I'm sure it does.

ROSE: Chuck Wexler directs the Police Executive Research Forum. He says there are 18,000 police departments across the country and some of them probably do have quotas.

WEXLER: On the one hand, there is an understandable desire to have productivity from your officers. But telling them that, you know, you have to arrest X number of people or you have to cite X number of people, it just encourages bad performance on the part of officers.

ROSE: Wexler says the problem can get especially bad if officers start to view the community they're policing as a source of revenue. That, according to the Department of Justice, is exactly what happened in Ferguson, Mo. As NPR and others have reported, the largely white police there wrote huge numbers of tickets for the city's black residents, collecting millions of dollars in fines every year.

LAURIE ROBINSON: Our view is that this is not solely a Ferguson problem.

ROSE: Laurie Robinson co-chairs President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. She's also a former assistant attorney general. The task force concluded that numbers-based policing sends the wrong message to the public.

ROBINSON: If citizens believe that tickets are being issued or arrests are being made for reasons other than the goal of law enforcement, which is about public safety, then their trust in the legitimacy of the system is really eroded.

ROSE: So why does numbers-based policing seem to persist in some departments? Maybe because it's an easy way to track officer productivity. Tim Dees is a retired Reno, Nev. police officer who also taught criminal justice. Dees says it's the quality of police work that counts, not the quantity.

TIM DEES: That's a much more difficult metric to gauge. The satisfaction of the citizen - it's very difficult to put a value on that. And it's much easier for, frankly, lazy administrators to make it into a numbers game.

ROSE: But some rank and file cops say the numbers game can actually make their jobs harder. NYPD officer Adhyl Polanco says that in order to be effective, he needs the trust of the community.

POLANCO: Nobody in the community want people selling drugs in their building. Nobody in the community wants shootings. You know, so if we work with the people that don't want that, together we can identify who the criminals are. But what happens when you start harassing innocent people because I have to come up with my 20?

ROSE: Polanco says those 20 tickets might look like productivity on paper, but they're not actually making anyone safer. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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