At first glance, a flier circulated in District 4 -- "2004 Beat Cop of the Month Rules" -- looks like a quota system, arousing the curiosity of a prominent civil rights lawyer. But the "rules" govern a voluntary reward system devised by Officer Tara Newberry, the Community Oriented Policing liaison for Walnut Hills. Newberry's program encourages her colleagues to look for infractions that detract from people's quality of life.
"Points will be awarded as follows," the flier says. Parking tickets: one point. Moving violations: two points. Auto recovery: 12 points. Drug trafficking arrest: 25 points. Littering ticket: 30 points. Pit bull confiscation and arrest: 30 points.
"It absolutely is not a quota," says Fraternal Order of Police President Harry Roberts, removing his copy of the flier from inside his hat. "It's a way to reward officers out there doing the community will. That's what these categories are, service to a community. If it were a contest to give an award to the person who wrote the most tickets, that would be a quota -- and I am totally against that."
District 4 Capt. Richard Schmalz says Newberry started the incentive program to encourage officers to maintain order in ways that don't generate arrests but are "extreme problems in the community": junked autos, overgrown weeds, broken windows, graffiti, putting up every day with loud music
"These almost mean more to you than a drug dealer living down the street," Schmalz says. "A quota system would come from me. She has no authority to reward or discipline anybody. It's almost a beat-pride kind of thing, shall we say."
Schmalz says as far as he knows the only reward for participation is recognition in an internal newsletter. Participation in the contest is voluntary.
"To get credit, you must provide a copy in the Walnut Hills folder at the front desk," the flier says.
The contest is a good management tool that creates a positive atmosphere for officers, according to Roberts.
"Let's be honest," he says. "Our police officers receive a lot more criticism than accolades."
Critics of ticket quotas for police, who often include police unions, say they remove officer discretion. Quotas are inherently punitive: if you don't make these numbers, your job is on the line. But how else to measure police officers' performance?
"In any occupation, you have to be critiqued," Roberts says. "How do you critique what an officer does?"
In his 25 years on the police force, officers have traditionally been judged in categories similar to those used by Newberry, he says.
"This is, unfortunately, the main way we keep track of what cops do and how they do it," Roberts says.
However, on traditional worksheets, moving violations carry the most weight, according to Roberts. He likes the fact that Newberry's contest places the least significance on traffic violations. It's a response to the concerns police hear most often from citizens.
For instance, "new points for 2004" include two points for "shoes on the wire." A pair of shoes tied together and hung from utility wires used to advertise drug houses, but that's not so often the case anymore, Schmalz says.
"I think sometimes the kids just do it to screw with us now," he says.
Even so, people complain to police about the practice.
"A lot of it is perception," Schmalz says. "If a community perceives that shoes on a wire are a drug dealing house, then we catch heck."
Rewarding officers who deal with the "offense" simply encourages public service.
BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.