The use of Quotas in modern policing

I don’t regularly blast a concept outright; however, police quotas is my exception as I frankly can not find very many reasons why an administrator would want to implement quotas within a police organization. I’ve been likened to Sir Robert Peel for my thinking on lack of crime as opposed to numbers of tickets issued.

Police Quotas

When people discover that I was a patrol officer in America they invariably begin asking about one of two topics, the first generally being on the topic of police use of force, the other being on the concept of arrest or citation quotas. I’ve become quite passionate about the topic of arrest and citation quotas and am thoroughly against them.

As we have read in Cordner and Scarborough (2007), the police function necessitates the use of discretion. The use of citation and arrest quotas essentially removes some degree of discretion that would otherwise be available to the officer.

It is my belief that quotas are actually an archaic management tool based upon theory X which believes that employees are lazy and incompetent. Furthermore it conforms to autocratic styles of leadership that are not suitable to the roles, responsibilities, and discretion afforded police officers. Such leadership styles are best saved for individuals with low task maturity or for emergency situations. Generally police officers and police executives agree that participative management is ideal; however, most officers believe their superiors lead in an autocratic manner (Cordner & Scarborough, 2007). This is an obvious shortcoming in policing which begs to be addressed.

Police work is interesting, the comments of former Los Angeles Police Department chief, Thomas Reddin struck me: “We give too little thought to the work itself. Work must be more than congenial; it must be absorbing, meaningful and challenging. There just isn’t any ‘work’ as inherently rich in these qualities as police work” (Cordner & Scarborough, 2007). If there is a need to utilize quotas to keep officers working, then it likely means the police executives and middle management need to rethink their organization’s structure and policies.

Further shortcomings of citation and arrest quota systems come to light when viewed from the lens of political accountability. Community members do not like quotas and this in turn causes the police to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the community (Schellenberg, 2000). As we have learned from Cordner and Scarborough (2007), the police are politically accountable to the community and it makes no sense to employ arrest and citation quotas when the community dislikes them with such a passion.

Granted that some police organizations view quotas as a means of monitoring and evaluation; however, evaluation based solely on quantity is inherently flawed. Organizations are unable to continue to run based solely on quantity and police organizations are no different (Cardinal & Serpas, 2008).

In order to evaluate the police organization, we must first ask what the vision, mission, and values of the organization are; generally the mission is of some variation of “to protect and serve.” Unfortunately long term strategy is largely lacking in police administration so organizational vision statements are less common; however, in order to benefit communities, police organizations need to regularly ask the questions “what do we as an organization hope to accomplish over the next 50 years?” (Cordner & Scarborough, 2007)

Once we have ascertained vision, mission, and values it is possible to establish goals which make up a larger plan that propels the organization toward the vision. Effective plans always call for evaluation methods, but instead of quotas, I propose the use of other evaluative methods. For example, if we have the vision of a Nowhereville free of graffiti, then the measure of progress toward our vision of a Nowhereville free of graffiti is not how many tickets were issued for graffiti; in fact, it might be said that we are failing in achieving our vision if this trend continues. Achievement of the Nowherevill free of graffiti goal would in fact be characterized by low incidences of citizen complaints about graffiti.

Following this line of logic it becomes apparent that if arrests and citations are mandated to be at a certain level, then police administrators are assuming failure at preventing crimes and infractions. The goal of police administration should be the reduction of crimes and infractions such that officers have little to arrest or cite for, thereby freeing them to become even more involved in prevention efforts.

Finally we come to the question of the effects competition will have after instituting arrest and citation quotas. While some competition is often healthy, competition can quickly hamper cooperation and communication between factions residing within the organization (Cordner & Scarborough, 2007). Unfortunately, given the other drawbacks, the promise of a percentage increase in productivity due to competition is moot.

References

Cardinal, E., & Serpas, R.W. (2008, December). Accountability-driven leadership: assessing quality versus quantity. The Police Chief, LXXV(12), Retrieved from http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=print_display&article_id=1692&issue_id=122008

Cordner, G.W., & Scarborough, K.E. (2007). Police administration. Newark, NJ: Lexis Nexis.

Schellenberg, K. (2000). Policing the police: surveilance and the predilection for leniency. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 27(6), Retrieved from http://cjb.sagepub.com doi: 10.1177/0093854800027006001

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