LOS ANGELES, Oct. 4 — A suburban sheriff’s station has had deputies vying to book the most people and impound the most vehicles, and the Los Angeles County sheriff said Thursday that he had ended the competitions.
“It’s not what I consider a management tactic in line with best practices,” Sheriff Lee Baca said. “It could lead to some individuals abusing the system.”
Results from the competitions, called Operation Any Booking and Operation Vehicle Impound, had been posted on a wall in the Lakewood station. Two hundred deputies are based in Lakewood, which is the local police force for 120,000 residents in five cities southeast of Los Angeles, Artesia, Bellflower, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood and Paramount.
Sheriff Baca said he had not been aware of the competitions, the subject of a front-page article on Thursday in The Los Angeles Times, until the paper contacted him on Wednesday. He said he ordered them stopped on Wednesday.
The sheriff called the attention on the contests “much ado about nothing” and said he had no plans to punish the deputies who competed or the “well-intentioned lieutenant” who had the idea.
“They’re not acceptable,” he said. “They’re not appropriate. But no harm, no foul. The only disciplinary action I’ve taken is saying to the lieutenant who organized them, ‘Hey, knock this’” off.
Sheriff Baca described the contests as a misguided motivational tool to galvanize underperforming deputies. No prizes were offered to the winners, he said.
The sheriff said he was unaware of inappropriate arrests or vehicle seizures as a result of the competitions. He acknowledged that although arrests did not increase significantly during the competitions, deputies had impounded more vehicles in one day of Operation Any Booking than was typical.
The deputies seized 18 vehicles on July 11, he said, about half the total for the entire month.
The Los Angeles County public defender, Michael P. Judge, said the competitions were “akin to a quota system,” the discredited practice in which officers are required to arrest a certain number of people or issue a minimum number of tickets each shift.
“It calls into question whether the people who were booked during the competitions should in fact have been arrested, whether there was probable cause or whether they were treated fairly,” Mr. Judge said. “The deputies were put under pressure by their supervisor to produce numbers of actual bookings. That sets up a dangerous environment.”
Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Nebraska in Omaha called the competitions “absolutely outrageous.”
“I’ve been teaching in this field for 30 years, and even back then it was commonly understood that quotas were a bad idea,” Professor Walker said. “They just encourage bad arrests. They distort policing priorities. They encourage police to make weak arrests that won’t stand up or arrests on trivial matters instead of more serious crimes like gangs, gun violence, drugs, murder.”
Sheriff Baca said no other stations in the department, the largest sheriff’s department in the United States, have held similar contests.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the contests involved teams of deputies competing in 24-hour periods. In addition to the booking and impounding contests, the newspaper reported, deputies also competed to see how many gang members and other criminal suspects could be stopped and questioned.
One officer involved in the contests, Lt. James Tatreau, told the paper, “It’s just a friendly competition to have a little fun out here.”
The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.