North Dakota Highway Patrol Needs To Come Clean About Using Quotas

Earlier this month I broke a story about the North Dakota Highway Patrol giving state troopers “goals” for specific numbers of arrests and citations. My contention is that a supervisor setting arrest/citation levels for their troopers is a quotas policy, but a NDHP spokesman I talked with disputed that conclusion.

“A quota is a hard number that does not fluctuate,” NDHP spokesman Lt. Tom Iverson told me by way of explaining the difference. “A quota suggests a number that you ‘must’ achieve, or there will be consequences.” Whereas a “goal is flexible and suggests trying your best to achieve that goal. It is something to work toward and is hopefully something that can be achieved if you try your best.”

The thing is, there are consequences for troopers who don’t hit their goals. “There could be what we call our action report, so written warnings might be issued,” NDHP Captain Brian Niewind told Valley News Live. “On top of that, it might be suspensions and or termination from our organization.” We’ve also since learned that there is a proposal to tie merit pay increases to these “goals.”

“The idea would be to reward high performers with the maximum possible merit raise of 4 percent, according to NDHP Capt. Aaron Hummel,” reports Andrew Sheeler.

Suspension? Termination? Getting passed over for raises? Those certainly sound like consequences to me. But the NDHP isn’t backing down. In Sheeler’s article the head of the Highway Patrol, Colonel Michael Gerhart, insists that the goals are not quotas:

“I don’t support quotas, and there won’t be quotas in the future,” said Gerhart, explaining that the email provided priorities not requirements.

“Our focus is crash prevention,” Gerhart said. “Our No. 1 goal, our sole mission, is saving lives.”

Well great. That’s the goal the NDHP should have. But if you’re tying arrest/citation numbers to pay for troopers, and possible suspension or termination, then you’re implementing quotas.

Sheeler, unfortunately, is credulous of Gerhart’s claims about goals versus quotas, but they shouldn’t go unchallenged.

The NDHP clearly feels that quotas are bad policy – every official I’ve spoken to is quick to dismiss quotas policies as Gerhart does above – yet they are implementing a system of measuring and rewarding performance that is indistinguishable from quotas.

And they expect we, the public, to believe they aren’t using quotas just because they say so.

That’s not good enough. It’s troubling that one of our state’s most important law enforcement agencies is so utterly hidebound and allergic to criticism that they insist on telling us that the sky is green when we can all clearly see that it is blue.

It makes the Highway Patrol look silly and petty and it diminishes their stature with the public at a time when law enforcement can’t afford to lose any more trust.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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