EVANSVILLE — The former president of the Evansville Fraternal Order of Police said he faced a suspension from the Evansville Police Department for not enforcing what he describes as a “quota,” but which Chief Billy Bolin said is a policy designed to boost productivity and community safety.
At issue: A department policy requiring patrol officers to self-initiate at least one “enforcement action” per four-day workweek outside of making runs directed by 911 dispatchers, Bolin said. Some officers, including EPD Sgt. and former FOP President D.J. Thompson, believe the rule amounts to a quota.
According to an internal EPD email, the term “enforcement action” refers to making arrests, issuing citations and handing out written warnings. Officers are required to complete one such action of their own initiative each week, the email states.
“It’s not based on runs, it’s based on enforcements ‒ tickets, arrests, etc. ‒ that have to be completed within a month or you get disciplined,” Thompson said.
The internal email claimed 13 officers, on average, failed to meet the minimum standard each month across EPD’s East Sector.
Thompson is scheduled to appear before the Evansville Police Merit Commission Jan. 23 to appeal charges of insubordination and neglect of duty. Thompson claimed the disciplinary hearing followed his use of the word “quota” to describe the policy and his role in enforcing the policy upon another officer.
The EPD would not comment on the specifics of the case, but Bolin said Thompson’s disciplinary hearing is not “about him being involved with enforcing what he calls a quota.”
Bolin told the Courier & Press the policy is about doing “the enforcement side of the job as well as other things" and that he thinks it is an "absolute embarrassment" that some officers are arguing against the policy.
“I don’t think it’s lopsided to say we want you to do, at minimum, one quarter of an enforcement per day, or one enforcement per your work week,” Bolin said. “I don’t think our citizens would think we’re out here head hunting them with that type of number. And that’s not what we’re doing.”
The chief said the vast majority of the EPD's offices are "very self motivated," and stated the policy was directed at "officers that we don't think are performing up to par."
EPD administrators have always kept data on the performance of patrol officers, according to Bolin, but the granularity of that data − and how it is used to assess officer performance − has varied over the department’s history.
When Bolin joined the EPD in 1998, he said the department kept statistics on patrol officers and would post them on the wall.
The department has also sparred with critics of perceived quotas in the past. A 1958 issue of the Evansville Courier & Press highlights such a tussle between Judge Claude Bates and then-EPD Chief Charles Gash.
"Bates said Thursday the quota system, under which city policemen must issue a fixed number of traffic tickets, should be abolished," the article states. "'Quota system? What quota system?' was police Chief Charles Gash's reaction."
Despite charges from Thompson and others that the current officer performance policy amounts to a quota on arrests, Bolin draws a distinction at the policy’s lack of connection to the department’s direct fiscal interests.
“My understanding of a quota is like saying you have to write ‘X’ amount of tickets, or you’re trying to create money for your department,” Bolin said. “That’s not what we’re doing at all.”
Shaun Ossei-Owusu, a University of Pennsylvania legal scholar writing in the New York University Law Review, defined police quotas as “formal and informal measures that require police officers to issue a particular number of citations or make a certain number of arrests.”
“Liberals, libertarians, conservatives, police officers, police unions, and racial minorities have all criticized police quotas,” Owusu wrote.
Another distinction Bolin draws between the department’s policy and traditional police department quotas is the inclusion of written warnings in the enforcement-action metric, alongside arrests and citations.
“Nobody makes a penny off of a written warning,” Bolin said. “But it’s some type of enforcement.”
Vanderburgh County Sheriff Noah Robinson said the sheriff's office does not have its own defined performance metrics system that mandates a minimum number of enforcement actions. But, there are policies in place to discipline deputies who fail to meet performance standards, he said.
"I never want to institute anything that resembles a quota system, because I don't believe in them," Robinson told the Courier & Press. "But on the same hand, a deputy who manages to go a month without issuing a single citation? I've got an issue with that."
Robinson also said defined performance metric systems, like that at the EPD, are helpful for larger agencies who have fewer supervisors.
Thompson said an FOP attorney is working to schedule a meeting with EPD administrators to discuss the issue. His disciplinary hearing has been postponed twice, but will be open to the public if it commences as scheduled Jan. 23 at the Civic Center Complex.
This isn't the first time Thompson has sparred with EPD administrators.
While president of the FOP, Thompson helped lead a 2019 vote of "no confidence" in Bolin, which the union said followed an increase in violent crime that occurred after staffing reductions.
At the time, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke defended Bolin, who he appointed in 2012, saying the chief and EPD's command staff had his "unequivocal support."
Police unions have long been critical of performance metrics that mandate a minimum number of enforcement actions, and twenty six states have outlawed overt and informal ticketing or arrest quotas.
Nathaniel Bronstein, a former New York City police officer and attorney, wrote in a 2015 issue of the Columbia Journal of Law that "activity quotas" can reduce police officer discretion and promote enforcement activity "for reasons outside of law enforcement's legitimate goals."
But Bronstein also acknowledged the important role performance metrics play in policing.
"There is a strong argument that quantitative performance measurement in modern law enforcement agencies is necessary," he wrote. "At minimum, it is beneficial."
Bolin said EPD administrators instituted the new performance metrics policy to encourage officers to take the initiative when out on patrol and encourage "proactive enforcement."
In an interview, the chief acknowledged that officers' duties extend beyond making arrests, issuing citations and giving written warnings, and said the department prioritizes community policing programs, like Coffee With A Cop.
"I think we do account for the officers that are out here doing the good things and interacting with the public and going to community events," Bolin said. "We do a ton of that."
In the internal email explaining the policy, EPD Lt. Patrick McDonald said department veterans can remember a time when officers were required to perform one "enforcement action" per shift. The new policy requires one enforcement action per week.
McDonald concluded the email by denying the policy amounted to a "quota system."
"The city pays over $3,000,000 in salary per year for us to staff just East Sector," he wrote. "Are we giving the citizens $3,000,000 worth of police services or 'just taking our runs?'"
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This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: EPD Sgt. DJ Thompson says Billy Bolin has put a quota system in place