Internal Docs Show Police Still Focused On Stats to Evaluate Officers

by: Stephen Janis Special to the AFRO
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The internal email obtained by the AFRO is crisp and to the point. A Baltimore police lieutenant orders subordinates to submit statistics every two hours recounting the number of car stops, warrants and citizen contacts for each officer under their supervision.  It is a demand for an immediate statistical tally of what an officer does, or does not do while on the job.

“Starting today, every 2 hours you are to collect stats from each officer” the lieutenant writes.  “If you have an officer that gives you nothing,” the email continues, “then give that officer specific direction of what you need from them.”

The email then lists a variety of activities that supervisors should measure and submit for evaluation including checking in on residents on the city’s gun offender registry and initiating field interviews.

It’s a document that suggests the Baltimore Police Department has not completely forsaken statistics as a metric for measuring officers.  It’s a controversial strategy tied to past policies like Zero Tolerance that makes some law enforcement experts leery and has been at the heart of the criticism of contemporary policing as far too dependent on numbers.

Baltimore police spokesman T.J Smith confirmed the authenticity of the email, but says it is well within the purview of a commanding officer to manage his staff as he or she sees fit.

“This was sent by a commander of a shift who has the ability to command his officers in the manner in which he sees appropriate,” Smith told the AFRO in an email.

“Officers should be constantly focused, and he is holding them accountable to that. The commander is following up on his direction by asking for information to confirm that his direction is being met.”

But other law enforcement experts say the policy hearkens back to statistics driven policing that departs from recent efforts by the department to reconnect with residents, especially in the aftermath of a damning report by the Department of Justice that found the Baltimore police had engaged in discriminatory and unconstitutional tactics.

“When your strategy is stat driven, it can separate the officer from the community because policing becomes all about numbers,” said Sgt. Louis Hopson, the lead plaintiff in a landmark civil rights lawsuit against the BPD.

“I think it shows that they don’t have a comprehensive city-wide plan to address crime, this is just going back to old dynamics,” Hopson added.

Indeed, the memo seems at odds with recent remarks by Police Commissioner Kevin Davis about the department’s long-term strategy. Particularly when he announced the formation of a team focused on targeting repeat offenders. Davis justified the move, in part, by citing an overworked patrol division constantly answering calls for service, a division he characterized as hardly in need of statistical monitoring.

But Smith defended the email arguing it does in fact jibe with the direction of the agency, especially the email’s focus on taking guns off the streets.

“This commander reiterated the focus- gun offenders (and) wanted persons and activity,” Smith said. “I think this is certainly one of the areas of direction the Commissioner has been focused on.”

Some say an emphasis on producing statistics could have unintended consequences. Doug Colbert, law professor at the University of Maryland’s Francis Carey School of Law, said the memo’s ambiguous wording could leave officers confused and prone to generate numbers that don’t always produce the best results.

“It’s a poorly worded memo that could be interpreted that command is not pleased with what officers are doing and expect them to do more,” Colbert explained, after reviewing the email.

“But they’re not saying we want you to have more conversation with the community, this is more punitive type of law enforcement.”

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