February 27, 2011

Self-Initiated Contacts



I recently posted a link to an article on my Facebook page that generated quite a bit of spirited discussion amongst my cyberspace cronies. The article from Officer.com highlighted the initiative by Chief William Clay of the Belleville, IL, Police Department directing his officers to make two self-initiated contacts in their 12-hour shifts.

“Self-initiated contacts” are simply contacts with the public primarily through traffic stops though they can also occur through field-stops. Field-stops are when an officer stops a person who is walking and makes contact with them to ensure that they are not engaged in criminal activity.

For some citizens, self-initiated contacts automatically conjure up the notion of a “quota”. Those of us in policing have learned how dirty the “Q” word is for citizens. When I was in the ticket-writing business before my dangerous desk job, I would often be accused of writing a ticket only to fulfill the police department’s quota. I took the time to explain that the Aurora Police Department does not have quotas and would justify (while making a conscious effort not to sound sarcastic) that the ticket I was issuing had everything to do with the receiving party’s infraction rather than moving another bead on the abacus. The quota accusation ranks up there with the “Why don’t you go mess with the real criminals and leave me alone?” question that only further serves to illustrate the lack of responsibility for ones actions – but I digress.

Chief Clay described the new initiative as a method of getting his officers more engaged with the public in order to address crime. This is a pleasant way of saying that contacts through traffic stops are an effective way of locating criminal activity through warrant arrests, drug possession arrests, and others. The Chief is absolutely correct in that the more contacts his officers make the probability of finding criminal activity increases.

Law abiding citizens probably have no issue with police officers increasing traffic stops Because mandatory contacts do not require the officer to take action, discretion is still within the officers’ purview so getting stopped does not necessarily mean a ticket will be issued. Most law abiding people are on board with any initiative aimed at curbing criminal activity.

Police Officers have mixed feelings about this mandate. When I was in patrol, we had a similar directive from our Commander who required us to make one traffic stop a day. I recall some of my colleagues being defiant about the directive but I also remember thinking that it wasn’t a lot to ask of an officer to make one traffic stop in an 8-hour shift. I still feel that way. Many people in the private sector have jobs that require them to meet objectives set forth by their boss. Asking officers to make more contacts is not much different than a company setting a sales goal. Private companies concentrate on profit as the bottom line. Our bottom line is reducing crime.

Some feel that the premise of the contact is to find something wrong and I readily admit that it is. I’ve never heard of a police officer pulling someone over to tell them that they are doing a really good job driving their car. Make no mistake— these contacts are to find illegal activity. Therein lies the issue with some citizens in mandating a certain number of contacts. Will it lead an officer pulling over someone committing an infraction that would normally be overlooked because of apathy? Maybe. But that is why police officers are not very popular – because they are enforcing the law and holding people accountable.

My position is that it’s a shame that officers have to be forced to do their job by putting these arbitrary numbers in place. We shouldn’t have to mandate officers to carry out the oath they were sworn to uphold.

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