Quit using cops as piggy banks.
In the 33 years David Brown had been on the Dallas police force, he lost a brother to drug violence, his patrol partner was shot and killed, and his own son shot a police officer and was killed — just seven weeks after Brown became police chief. In the historically tragic month of July, five of his police officers were killed by a disgruntled Black Lives Matter supporter.
It was too much. Brown decided to retire, and officially left the police force this past week.
He leaves a Dallas police department transformed. In many ways, Brown’s policing reforms as chief have converted the department into a national model.
As The Atlantic reports, Dallas had been plagued by a “higher per-capita rate of police-involved shootings than Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles,” for years. But four years after Brown took charge, Dallas had its lowest murder rate in 84 years, and excessive force complaints plummeted.
So what did David Brown do to bring about such remarkable changes? In addition to making his officers wear more body cameras, take lethal force training more often, and focusing on de-escalation, he told his officers not to worry about the revenue quotas from ticket-writing and citations. Their performance as police officers would no longer hinge on how successful they were at bilking taxpayer dollars.
This was huge. The number of citations decreased by half from 2006. While it’s impossible to make anything more than a correlation between police officers issuing fewer citations and the level of excessive force complaints dropping — especially in light of the other reforms Brown instituted — it’s an important part of the equation. When cops issue fewer citations, they are put into fewer situations that may escalate and require or induce force.
Consider that Ferguson, Mo., had the opposite problem around the same time. Police officers in Ferguson were pushed to issue citations to bring in revenue, and the number of tickets written were double or triple the number of tickets written in comparably sized cities in neighboring Illinois, according to Time.com. The Department of Justice report into the shooting of Michael Brown led to the following observation:
“Officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on ‘productivity,’ meaning the number of citations issued. Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”
Ferguson, Mo., isn’t alone in the notoriously despised practice. It’s a documented problem in Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin, Florida, and Washington, D.C. — even though it’s illegal for police departments in New York and Florida (among other states) to establish quotas.
But it still happens. In Tampa, Fla., the pressure to write tickets has been so acute that its police officers wrote more tickets for “bicycle offenses than any other law enforcement agency in the state, and eight out of 10 of the cyclists were black,” reported the Tampa Bay Times last year.
When an officer is forced to fulfill a quota of citations in order to keep his job, his focus isn’t on fighting crime or making the community a safer, better place to live. And when unnecessary citations are written, they don’t make streets safer. The only entity that benefits is the local government.
For example, the Nevada Supreme Court was panicking when citation revenue was down last year. There was a $700,000 shortfall in the budget, and the court was petitioning the state government for emergency funding. But did the court ever think about cutting costs instead of asking for a bailout? A decrease in revenue from citations should inspire local governments to reassess their priorities, not put pressure on police departments to extort money from local citizens.
If state and local governments cut down on waste and redundancies instead of squeezing as much money as possible out of citizens, everyone is better off. (Well, except a laid-off bureaucrat.)
Cops get to be cops, focused on fighting real crime and engaging with the community. Citizens will have to fork over less money to the local government for petty offenses like not having an insurance card handy, and the number of run-ins with police that have the potential to escalate will decrease. The police and the communities they serve will be happier and work better together, like they have in Dallas.
It’s time for more law enforcement officials nationwide to adopt David Brown’s vision for a police department working in harmony with the local community. In other words, police chiefs should let cops be cops, not government extortionists.