‘Unacceptable’: Atlanta officers scored on level of arrests
CBS46 Investigates takes a look inside what some are calling an incentive system that encourages Atlanta Police officers to arrest more people.
ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - CBS46 began looking into Atlanta Police Department’s performance evaluation system after Federal Judge William Ray II expressed suspicion that such a system could contribute to wrongful arrests.
Judge Ray oversaw the lawsuit against Atlanta police officers Vladimir Henry and Juan Restrepo, who arrested Ju’Zema Goldring in October 2015. Goldring, a Black transgender woman, was stopped for jaywalking in midtown, but taken into custody on grounds that she could be trafficking cocaine. In a judgement released in mid-February, Judge Ray said, “The court is concerned that such a system may create perverse incentives for officers.” Goldring was also awarded $1.5 million.
The Atlanta Police Department defends this system saying it’s an assessment tool and officers aren’t required to meet quotas.
APD’s Point System
An officer who didn’t want to be interviewed, fearing he would be fired, sent CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky a copy of the weekly evaluation chart in question. It was posted on the wall at the APD Zone One precinct.
You can see how officers are awarded points or values based on their actions. “Traffic stops” are valued at 1.5 points while “Felonies” and “Juvenile Arrests” are valued at 5.
Tiffany Roberts, a public policy director for the Southern Center for Human Rights, expressed similar concerns to Judge Ray.
“It came from law enforcement officers who were upset that they lost their beats and had been penalized because they were not arresting enough people,” Roberts said.
Roberts believes the system encourages officers to do police work that earns them more points.
“Your incentivized to arrest people and to arrest people for the harshest offense possible,” Roberts added. “If there is a belief within APD that this point system works, that means they believe that the more people officers arrest, the safer we are, even though there isn’t data pointing to that.”
APD Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum tells CBS46 Investigates that’s not how the system works. Yes, some actions are worth more points, but he says it’s not based on the crime itself.
“The values that are assigned are to reflect the time of service that it takes for that officer to meet that task,” Deputy Chief Schierbaum added.
For example, he says officers complete traffic stops very quickly so they’re worth less points than a juvenile arrest, which takes up more of an officers’ shift.
“We want to have a true reflection of the demands of men and women in our department, so when you see that, it’s generally reflecting the amount of time the officer is out of service,” Schierbaum said. “It’s a reflection of how much time an officer is out of service for each function.”
He went on to say that officers don’t have quotas and they aren’t penalized based on their total scores. CBS46 Investigates also noticed that officers who met their target goals received comments like ‘highly satisfactory’ while those who didn’t received remarks like ‘unacceptable.’
“Why would you post this for all officers to see if officers weren’t being penalized?” Polansky asked.
“I cannot speak to the posting at police facilities. We have a number of police facilities. I wouldn’t say it’s accurate to say it’s posted at every one. Our goal is to know, when the patrol car leaves the precinct that day, is it serving your community?” Schierbaum said.
We do want to note that when Polansky showed APD the performance evaluation chart from Zone One – a spokesperson said there is a more updated evaluation chart that includes awarding points to officers who use policing alternatives and diversions. They went on to say that they’d make sure Zone One will be using the updated chart from now on.
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