Legislation banning the “quota system” — used by police chiefs to establish and enforce monthly performance goals for tickets and arrests — went into effect among Utah’s police force last Tuesday. Drivers across the state might worry less about a traffic violation, but they should be grateful for officers who now are freer to focus on higher priorities — building public trust and ensuring public safety.
Quota systems risk damaging public trust. As Laurie Robinson, co-chairwoman of President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, told NPR, “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.”
Trust is essential for helping officers appropriately serve the public. It offers citizens the comfort of knowing officers will act in the best interest of the community.
While the Utah bill, SB154, received minor opposition in the Senate, it appropriately highlights that the quota system also creates incentives for officers that don’t necessarily align with public safety.
Most law enforcement agencies bristle at allegations of using formalized quota systems for ill-suited purposes. Indeed, common traffic violations ought to be policed, and tracking the number of tickets issued in a period is one aspect of measuring officer productivity. Supervisors have a duty to ensure their officers use time and public money well.
But even if quotas are nothing more than an amorphous cultural expectation among colleagues, they might place pressure on officers to tend to tasks that skew priorities or perpetuate racial biases.
As a result of this concern, both conservative and liberal states, including California, New York, Texas, Nebraska and now Utah, have passed legislation banning quotas. This legislation is key in encouraging law enforcement to focus on public safety — not revenue or counterproductive metrics of officer productivity.
The two critics of the bill in the Senate believed the legislation would keep police chiefs from targeting specific public safety problems — such as drunken driving — and that the bill was an overstep of legislative bounds, with Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, describing it as “using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.” There must be, however, other managerial ways for supervisors to encourage officers to productively focus on specific community problems without using quotas.14 comments on this story
Quantifying punitive action, like tickets and arrests, as a proxy for officer productivity fails to account for the positive work officers do to assist community members, of which there is plenty. Fixing flats on the shoulders of highways, escorting concerned residents through shady parts of town at night, finding runaway 6-year-olds and rushing to aid victims of domestic violence — all this and more Utah’s officers do each day without fanfare or reward.
Police chiefs should embrace the ethos of this law as encouragement to focus on fostering positive relationships with cities. The process of doing so will likely result in more trusting, open and safe communities, ones in which people are treated as individuals to be protected and respected, not quotas to be met.