A couple weeks ago, Bianca Phillips reported on an internal survey given to officers of the Memphis Police Department. Survey results were leaked to the Flyer, and some of the comments were illuminating.
There were the usual complaints about low morale, lousy management, lack of advancement opportunities, poor equipment, etc. — the kinds of things you'd hear in almost any large company's anonymous internal survey. But one aspect of the officers' jobs that drew much criticism was the statistics-based evaluation — basically, a quota system for traffic tickets. From Bianca's story:
"They've started tracking officer's stats, from alarm citations to how many calls to report to arrest tickets," one anonymous patrol officer told the Flyer.
The officer added that the system can cause "less mature officers" to violate citizens' civil rights, because "they're just looking to make an arrest and boost their productivity points."
This intrigued me, because I'm about to go to court to fight a traffic ticket for running a stop sign. I've gotten tickets before and just paid the fine. So why am I fighting this one? Because it's totally and egregiously bogus.
I've been driving Vance Avenue from my Midtown home to the Flyer's downtown office at least twice a day for 20 years. I know that there's a four-way stop at Vance and Lauderdale. And I always stop. Sometimes, I even nod in genuflection to Memphis magazine's Vance Lauderdale, for whom the streets were obviously named.
A few weeks back, I was heading home for lunch. At Vance and Lauderdale, two other cars arrived simultaneously with mine — one approaching from the east, wanting to turn south in front of me; one from the north, wanting to go straight in front of me. We all did the "wave the other guy through" routine. After a few moments, the guy across from me went first. I went second.
Imagine my surprise when blue cruiser lights appeared in my rear-view mirror about 10 seconds later. The officer approached and said (I kid you not), "You know there's a stop sign back there, don't you?"
I said, "Yes, I do. That's why I stopped."
The officer said, "No sir, you totally disregarded that stop sign. You ran right through it."
I sputtered and looked at him in disbelief. I went through the whole scenario of the three cars, the waving, etc. No dice. The cop continued to insist that I "totally disregarded" the stop sign and gave me a ticket.
I have no idea whether this officer just wanted to mess with me or whether he had a quota to meet or whether he somehow mistook me for another vehicle. But he's going to have to tell his tall tale in court. I'm fortunate to have access to legal help (my wife is an attorney); most people would probably just pay the fine, which may be the whole point.
I go to trial in couple of weeks. I'll keep you posted.