DeKalb County Georgia Lawsuit Shines a Light on an Unconstitutional Quota System

Posted by Richard Lawson | Sep 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

A lawsuit in DeKalb County, Georgia, alleges that the DeKalb County Police Department implemented an arrest "quota" for officers that encouraged unconstitutional arrests.  While unwritten, a former DeKalb County police officer stated in an interview with WSB-TV 2 News that the policy was "effectively communicated and enforced."   "Officers who failed to make enough arrests were assigned to less desirable shifts."  Officers were also allegedly ranked according to the number of arrests they made.

This quota system came to light after an officer was allegedly caught on video planting marijuana on a suspect.   Pursuant to an investigation, that officer admitted to the existence of the quota system.

How does this "quota" system tie into the practice of DUI law?  What it comes down to is the issue of the officer's opinion and judgment.  After all, much of a DUI case is built on an officer's opinion as to someone's sobriety.  The arresting officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to make the initial stop of a person suspected of DUI.  Furthermore, a police officer must have probable cause to make an arrest.

While both of these are legal standards with legal definitions, they are both based largely on the officer's observations, experience, training, and judgment.  Refusal cases are even more subjective, and as a result, an officer's decision-making is even more important.  When a person refuses chemical testing, the entire case is a based on the officer's opinion and observations.

Undoubtedly, an officer's decision-making would  be affected by a quota system.  If a department incentivizes making more arrests over making good arrests, there will be an increase in questionable arrests.

In my opinion, officers themselves should frown on a quota system as it calls their credibility into question.  Any reasonable person sitting on a jury would give a case far more scrutiny in a situation where an officer was behind on his or her quota.  Also, a reasonable juror would question the officer's credibility and interpretations of the evidence of impairment.

This is not the first time an Atlanta-area police department has received scrutiny after a "quota" system has come to light.  In 2010, a Roswell Georgia Police Department supervisor for the overnight shift sent an e-mail stating, "the DUI goal of 25 DUI [arrests] a year is now mandatory." The email also stated that "your evaluations will reflect if you are meeting this goal or not."  After this e-mail had been sent, DUI arrests in Roswell increased by 44%.

While it is impossible to say for sure that the extra arrests were somehow faulty, it seems unlikely that Roswell suddenly saw a nearly-overnight rise in the net number of drunk drivers.  It seems far more likely that Roswell Police began effectuating arrests in cases that previously would not have resulted in arrests, cases that were “marginal” at best.

In my opinion, we, as citizens, should be very concerned when we learn that our police departments have quotas in place.  It places people at risk of being falsely arrested, and more importantly it breaks down the public's trust in law enforcement officers. As we saw in Ferguson Missouri, when citizens mistrust the police, civil society breaks down.

The good news is that DeKalb County DUI Lawyers have brought this issue to light.

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Richard Lawson

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