In an interesting article in the New York Times, writer Michelle Alexander lays out examples of police lying under oath and to prosecutors about the circumstances (and legality) of arrests, even for small offenses. What starts out sounding like another tired story about race and class offers up a much more compelling reason why police may not always tell the truth: Money.
Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence. Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game. And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well. Numerous scandals involving police officers lying or planting drugs — in Tulia, Tex. and Oakland, Calif., for example — have been linked to federally funded drug task forces eager to keep the cash rolling in.
I'm personally familiar with the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program, because when I was a fresh-out-of-law-school prosecutor, my position as "Special Prosecutor for Drug Crimes" embedded with the local multi-jurisdictional Drug Task Force was funded by a Byrne grant. Did we keep count of our cases? You bet we did! How else could we show that the taxpayers' money was being well-spent? How could we ask for more money next time if we couldn't show results from last year's money? Alexander continues:
The pressure to boost arrest numbers is not limited to drug law enforcement. Even where no clear financial incentives exist, the “get tough” movement has warped police culture to such a degree that police chiefs and individual officers feel pressured to meet stop-and-frisk or arrest quotas in order to prove their “productivity.”
For the record, the New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, denies that his department has arrest quotas. Such denials are mandatory, given that quotas are illegal under state law. But as the Urban Justice Center’s Police Reform Organizing Project has documented, numerous officers have contradicted Mr. Kelly. In 2010, a New York City police officer named Adil Polanco told a local ABC News reporter that “our primary job is not to help anybody, our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them.” He continued: “At the end of the night you have to come back with something. You have to write somebody, you have to arrest somebody, even if the crime is not committed, the number’s there. So our choice is to come up with the number.”
So of course cops keep count. I think it is naive to think otherwise. They won't admit having "quotas" but they keep "data" of how many arrests are made and by who. They need those numbers to justify larger grants and larger budgets next year, whether it is the county, state, or federal government doling out the taxpayers' dollars.
As an aside, I think this same pressure, coupled with lax judicial oversight, has caused an increase in the number of police roadblocks we see. Roadblocks are a quick and easy way to generate a bunch of arrests in a short amount of time. So if the numbers are down, have a roadblock!