Most of the legislative efforts we’ve seen thus far that ostensibly seek to enact “police reform” actually are intended to weaken the police and make it harder for them to do their jobs. This has been true in New York City, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and other cities. The latest news on this front out of New Jersey is somewhat different, however. State legislators have introduced a plan to change the way arrest records are compiled and how they are used. You’d be forgiven if such a description makes you suspicious, and the Democrats who cooked up the plan probably thought they were doing something to keep the police in check, but it’s actually not a bad idea. In fact, the police unions almost immediately came out in favor of it as well. (Washington Examiner)
A New Jersey Senate committee has advanced a bill that would bar law enforcement agencies from looking at arrest numbers when evaluating an officer’s overall performance or making decisions about whether to promote or fire an officer.
The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee voted 6-0 to advance Senate Bill No. 1322. The measure is a companion to Assembly Bill 4058.
Under current state law, local and state law enforcement agencies cannot mandate officers meet arrest and citation quotas. However, agencies may consider arrest and citation data as part of an officer’s performance evaluation.
So the bottom line is that, under this legislation, police departments wouldn’t be able to track the number of citations and arrests coming from individual law enforcement officers and use that information when making decisions about promotions or raises. State Sen. Shirley Turner, a Democrat, released a statement about the bill that contained much of the usual language we’ve come to expect. She talked about how quotas drive police to make arrests that “have a detrimental effect on our communities,” and “have fallen hardest upon low-income individuals and people of color.”
The effort is being pitched as a way “to advance issues of social justice and create a more equitable criminal justice system.” You get the idea, I’m sure. We can debate the demographic breakdown of arrest stats and tickets another day, but this is a very real issue that causes problems for everyone.
All of you who have ever driven a significant distance have probably either encountered or heard warnings about towns with “speed traps,” where the posted speed limit will suddenly drop drastically just as you round a bend. And there’s always a cop miraculously sitting right there ready to hit the flashing lights. Some of these towns derive significant portions of their revenue from traffic tickets.
In many other areas, police who have to take on traffic duty are just given a minimum quota of tickets they have to write. A failure to hit that magic number can be detrimental to their careers. Other LEOs are given a minimum quota of arrests to make. This is simply unproductive at best and detrimental at worst. If the end of the month is coming up and you haven’t met your quota, the temptation is going to be there to go out and “find” a crime that you can arrest someone for. And in the worst cases, if there’s no crime taking place at the moment, you might need to invent one.
So of course the police are going to welcome this for the most part. The only fly in the ointment I see here is the reality that most police departments are still going to know which officers are making the most collars and which aren’t. Even if the numbers aren’t being officially tallied for that purpose, they still have to maintain arrest records, so it’s not like the information would be impossible to ferret out. But this still seems better than nothing. It’s probably an idea that other states and municipalities should look at adopting.