Update: Officer Hennessy filed lawsuit against Ft. Lauderdale Police Department on Monday.
We’ve all suspected that police officers have certain quotas to fill, which is why you see more speed traps during the last week of the month than other times of the month.
This may also be why most of the photographers who get arrested, tend to do so towards the end of the month. My arrest was Feb. 20th, 2007.
But now a veteran Fort Lauderdale police officer has confirmed this practice, alleging that his department rewarded those officers who racked up a high number of arrests – even if it was for offenses like having a dog unleashed – and punished those officers who preferred to focus on the more serious crimes.
The story comes to us from The Miami Herald, which scooped the Sun-Sentinel in its own backyard. Apparently, this was not one of the stories that fell under the recently launched “content-sharing initiative” between the three declining dailies in South Florida.
Fort Lauderdale police are investigating claims that its own officers are being pressured by supervisors to hand out tickets and make ”unnecessary” arrests as part of a department-wide quota system to boost arrest numbers.
The city’s Office of Professional Standards is conducting its own separate investigation.
The allegations of a quota system were raised by patrolman Michael Hennessy, a 23-year veteran. He informed high-ranking department officials earlier this year about the alleged practice — which purportedly rewards officers for making arrests and handing out citations, while penalizing those who don’t go along by revoking overtime and voluntary details.
I commend Officer Hennessy for speaking out against this issue, but I have no confidence in a police department investigating itself. We’ll have to wait and see just how professional the city’s Office of Professional Standards is in conducting its own investigation.
Hennessy comes across as an officer who doesn’t want to waste his time with misdemeanor arrests when a warning or citation will probably be just as effective and a lot less time-consuming, not to mention less costly for taxpayers.
”It’s all about numbers for them,” he said. “An arrest is an arrest. They don’t care if it’s an arrest for murder or for someone drinking a Natural Ice on a bench.”
This story is hardly a surprise to those who work in the Fort Lauderdale court system.
The allegations of a quota system at Fort Lauderdale police did not surprise Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. He says nearly nine of every 10 arrests for minor crimes in Broward are being made by Fort Lauderdale police. Violations include drinking alcohol in public, sleeping in the open and having a dog on the beach.
”It seems as though they are being heavy-handed because it is the easy way out to get the statistical notches on their belt,” Finkelstein said. “The city should focus its attention on serious offenses and serial criminals and leave the dog walkers and homeless people alone.”
Hennessy, who no doubt is making enemies within the department by shattering the blue code of silence, said he was already getting punished for not making enough arrests.
No more take-home car. No more overtime shifts. No more voluntary details.
”It is literally an economic death sentence for the average police officer,” he said.
In all, Hennessy said, that amounts to thousands of dollars he’s losing.
Captain David Wheeler even gave him a warning for his low “productivity”.
The warning came after Hennessy, who works the day shift in the north district, arrested four people and ticketed 75 — far fewer than he was supposed to — during a six-month period from February to August.
One of his colleagues, Laurel Medley, a 26-year veteran, had the highest numbers on his shift.
Records show she made 57 arrests — most of them misdemeanors like drinking alcohol in public, sleeping in a public place and petty theft — and issued 268 citations during that same time. The average for that district and shift was 21 arrests and 104 tickets.
But Captain Wheeler himself only made seven arrests during that same time period, three more than Hennessy, and the bulk of his arrests came during some type of canine crackdown.
During the six-month period from February to August, Wheeler made seven arrests — six for people whose dogs were unlawfully on the beach or not on a leash.
One dog was a five-pound Shih Tzu. Another was a Labrador. Another was a German Shepherd puppy.
One of the dog owners arrested, Cindy Shaw, had never been arrested before.
Shaw, 42, who had never been arrested for a crime, had her run-in with the law the morning of Oct. 8.
As her Labrador Retriever Jasmine fetched a Frisbee from the ocean, Shaw noticed Wheeler watching them from a distance and snapping photos.
She approached the captain, who told her she was not allowed to have her dog on the beach. He jotted down her personal information and relayed it to dispatch.
She thought he was going to give her a warning or ticket.
”I have never been in trouble in my life,” said Shaw, who was given a written arrest. “He treated me like I was a crackhead robbing a 7-Eleven.”
I’m almost tempted to drive up to Fort Lauderdale this week to photograph cops, just to see where that lands me.