Fake Traffic Stops = Mass Police Firing in Arlington
March 7, 2017 (Fault Lines) – In Texas, to be a cop, you have to be licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). If you lose that license, no one can hire you to be a cop, because if they do, they can get arrested (it’s a crime to employ an unlicensed cop) and lose their license, too. Most chiefs aren’t going to take the chance, so if you lose your TCOLE license, say by surrendering it to the Commission in lieu of disciplinary action, you’re done as a cop in Texas. As of March 1, 2017, sixteen police officers in Arlington, Texas surrendered their peace officer licenses to avoid disciplinary action by TCOLE and, in addition, to avoid criminal prosecution.
Wait, what? Criminal prosecution?
Yeah, it seems like an internal audit last May found that fifteen officers were making false entries in their in-car computer system, saying that they were making traffic stops that they weren’t really making. No big deal, really, except for the fact that it is a crime to make a false entry in a governmental record, and that lying tends to really mess up your credibility.
So the department did what they were supposed to do, they conducted an investigation. Three officers resigned during the investigation. In December, the department fired nine officers, leaving four officers on administrative leave with pay. As of March 1st, those officers were no longer with the department, although it is not clear if they resigned or were fired.
Five of the officers were indicted for either Tampering with a Government Record with Intent to Defraud or mere Tampering with a Government Record. The Tarrant County District Attorney agreed to drop the charges if they would surrender their peace officer licenses, so that’s what they did.
Randy Moore, the attorney for two of the officers, said that his clients maintained that there was a quota system for tickets at Arlington PD. The city, cognizant of the fact that ticket quotas are illegal under Texas law, denied that there was anything resembling a quota. Both sides are right, and both are wrong.
The city evaluates its officers on their performance, their statistics. All departments do this. My old department had statistics for all sorts of things from response time to the number of traffic stops, arrests made, tickets written, etc. I used to print them out every month to see how my shift compared to the others, but I was looking at it across the board, not caring what individual officers did. I had some officers who wrote a bunch of tickets, some that wrote almost none. But tickets did not define those officers, because they were good at other aspects of the job, like shaking doorknobs and catching burglars in the act, etc. So I didn’t care (and neither did my boss) who was writing a bunch of tickets.
That’s not the case in some departments. In Fort Worth, for example, officers who work the State Traffic Enforcement Grant (STEP) must make four “contacts” an hour. That’s administrator talk for “you better be writing four tickets an hour—we’re paying you overtime.” It’s even worse in smaller towns, where ticket revenue may fund the entire city. The city judge in Calvert, Texas, quit because the town focused on writing a bunch of tickets, mainly to people passing through.
These are quotas, pure and simple.
What happened in Arlington is, in my opinion, a direct result of quotas. It also doesn’t matter, so far as the officer conduct is concerned. The officers lied, so they should be fired, and should not again work in law enforcement. They got caught up in a system where they felt that they had to manufacture evidence of their activity to keep their sergeant off of their butt.
A city has to be able to evaluate its officers. Doing it by the number of tickets written is counterproductive. They need to come up with a better way.
 If you are convicted of a felony in Texas, your peace officer license will be suspended for 30 years. If you are convicted of a Class A misdemeanor, it will be suspended for at least 120 days and not more than 10 years, and a Class B misdemeanor will be 60 days up to 10 years. As a practical matter, I’ve never heard of short-term suspensions, even for misdemeanors.