The Fairfax City police department, already known for its vigorous enforcement of speeding laws, has told its 30 patrol officers they face disciplinary action and possible dismissal if they do not make enough arrests or issue enough tickets each month.
Drivers in Fairfax City already are more likely to get ticketed than in almost any other local jurisdiction. Although its population of 22,000 is tiny compared to the county that surrounds it, Fairfax City is traversed by many of the region's major commuter routes and it attracts 140,000 cars each day.
Now police department leaders have developed the Police Officers Performance System, or POPS, and officers say the number of tickets and arrests is likely to increase. Police officers must file "POPS claims sheets" after each shift listing the arrests they have made, the citizens they have helped and the crimes they have discovered. Each of these earns a set number of points for the police officer.
Officers who consistently fall 40 percent or more below the departmental "points per hour" average risk being disciplined and eventually suspended or dismissed, said Deputy Chief Samuel S. Ellis.
The system has angered some police officers, especially since the first memos threatening reprimands were dispatched this week. One officer, who like other complaining officers asked not to be identified, said POPS is a "glorified quota system" that encourages ill-founded arrests and removes an officer's discretion.
"I think the discretion it takes away is the discretion not to do anything," Lt. N.C. Durham responded in an interview this week. "We think it's good that a person who earns a salary feels pressured to perform."
Durham said POPS is not a quota system because it measures officers against an average set by their peers, rather than a goal set arbitrarily by management. In addition, Durham said, the system guards against ticket-happy exuberance by penalizing officers who issue many times more tickets than the average.
He agreed, however, that POPS generally rewards officers for issuing more tickets and arresting more suspects. "We have found that by encouraging officers to make arrests we have fewer incidents," Durham said.
District Mayor Marion Barry recently ordered an investigation after it was disclosed that a Washington police captain was requiring officers to meet arrest quotas, which Durham acknowledged has long been a "dirty word" in police work.
Fairfax City officials initiated POPS in January on an experimental basis, revised its complicated formula several times and recently declared it a success. This week eight patrolling officers were told their point total was inadequate and would earn them initial disciplinary warnings if they did not improve by Sept. 30. The warnings eventually could lead to suspension or dismissal, said Deputy Chief Ellis.
POPS awards eight points for each drunk-driving arrest, five points for a misdemeanor arrest and one point for every five parking tickets--reflecting priorities set by the department rather than by each individual officer as in the past, Durham said. Solving crimes, volunteering for special duty and receiving thank you letters from citizens also qualify an officer for a few points.
"You will find officers that don't like this system," Durham said. "And what's the reason? Probably because we have dared to ask them to do their jobs."
Several officers disagreed, saying they now must look for quantity instead of quality arrests. They said they are more likely to arrest someone on a "drunk-in-public" charge, for instance, when the community would be better served by putting the drinker in a taxicab and sending him home.
At the same time, they are discouraged from backing each other up or patrolling subdivision streets, neither of which is likely to improve their point totals.
"It's trying to turn us into bounty hunters," said one officer, who said his point total is about average so far.
Durham said arrests and traffic citations have increased compared to a similar period last year, but the increase has not been dramatic. He said exact figures are not yet available.
In the same six months, major crime has decreased by 32 percent compared to last year, Ellis said.
Ellis attributed the improved statistics in part to the POPS system, but acknowledged that similar decreases in the crime rate have been reported throughout Northern Virginia.
Police chiefs have attributed the drop in part to improved neighborhood watch programs and in part to unknown factors.