Bill Torpy at Large: Did DeKalb’s cops have arrest and ticket quotas?

Just about anyone who's gotten a ticket inherently knows that cops have to live up to quotas.

Of course, every police commander I’ve ever asked has denied this.

But a federal lawsuit coming to trial soon argues that DeKalb County police for years had quotas requiring cops to slap into handcuffs a body or two per shift while also finding time to write tickets. As one ex-cop put, "Two tickets a day keep the sergeants away. Five a day keep the lieutenants at bay."

And, several former DeKalb cops say, there was pressure from higher-ups for them to make arrests whether they were Mickey Mouse pinches or not. In fact, the ex-cops say, sometimes the charges were overblown or even not true. If the cops didn’t meet such goals, they say they were demoted, transferred or punished in other ways.

The allegations come out in the case of Alphonso Eleby V. Officer Demetrius Kendrick and a Bunch of Others. Eleby was visiting a gas station in 2012 when Officer Kendrick smelled weed. In fact, cops found weed on two of Eleby’s buds but not him, despite numerous searches, including apparently making him drop trou a couple of times. Finally, as Eleby sat on the curb, with cops watching him, some weed magically appeared on the ground next to him.

The problem — for Officer Kendrick, that is — was there was a security camera and it appeared that the officer tossed the weed next to Eleby to make a case. Eventually, the case against Eleby was dropped and Kendrick was charged with planting evidence.

The officer was later acquitted on the criminal charges but now comes a civil trial. Eleby’s lawyer, Mark Bullman, alleges the officer not only planted the drugs on his hapless client but he did so to meet the department’s oppressive arrest quota.

“This was so open and they were so arrogant that they’d post them up in the precincts,” said Bullman.

DeKalb PD: ‘We’ve never had a quota’

One chart, dated August 2012, notes “citation goals” and “arrest goals,” the number of citations and arrests achieved and even a “% to Goal Citations” and “% to Goal Arrests.” It almost looks like baseball stats — home runs, batting average, slugging percentage.

One can almost see the judge’s eyebrows arch.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May ruled there’s enough here to let a jury sort it out, writing: “Plaintiff’s allegations, supported by these affidavits, demonstrate that this quota system and its consequences strongly encouraged compliance whether or not it was an open requirement.”

Au contraire, ventures Major Steve Fore of DeKalb.

“We’ve never had a numbers quota,” he said. “Like any business there’s an expectation of productivity.”

He said that officers must fill out logs proving they are actually doing something, although they are not measured on arrests. He was, however, surprised to see the “% to Goal Arrests” sheet and declined to comment on that.

Fore is correct, nobody likes lazy, work-shirking cops, especially non-lazy, hard-working cops.

‘You want to go after real crimes’

Jamie Payton, a cop who helped uncover alleged corruption in DeKalb County and was more or less run off because of it, agrees with Fore, at least on his contention that cops should try to keep busy.

“It is tough,” said Payton, who is one of several cops willing to testify that there was a quota. “There was this one slug who didn’t answer his calls or back people up. They need a quota system to get a guy like that moving or he’d just park his car and sleep. But you want to go after real crimes rather than chicken bleep. It’s lazy to put out a blanket rule.”

In all lines of work, managers are keen to keep the drones busy because not everyone is blessed with a work ethic. But there’s a big difference between making sure aluminum siding salesmen are hitting their benchmarks and mandating that cops take away someone’s freedom each shift.

Such a scoring scale was blamed in the 2006 death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, who was killed in an ill-fated drug raid. Atlanta narcs said they were trying to keep up with the unending demand to come up with search warrants and arrests and manufactured a case that wasn’t there.

At the time, Richard Pennington, who was Atlanta’s chief and who loved computer-driven policing, seemed to have a chip embedded in his brain that clicked on from time to time to say, “We have no quotas, never had quotas.”

'One (arrest) a night is not acceptable'

His predecessor, Beverly Harvard, also had that quote down pat. And so did her predecessor, Eldrin Bell.

But before Bell was chief, he was a hard-nosed major. Here’s a passage from a 1988 news story: “In Zone 3, which includes the greatest number of housing projects, police officers said they have been told by superiors to make three to six cases each a night.

"Maj. Eldrin Bell, Zone 3 commander, said the order is not a quota system but goals.

“'One [arrest] a night is not acceptable in anyone’s book,' said Bell, who personally made 16 in two hours Monday night."

So, if the allegations against DeKalb are proven true, the department was simply going old-school.