NOPD Sixth District Commander Robert Bardy found himself in a bit of a controversy this past week after an e-mail message was released in which he seemed to be urging an informal arrest quota. WWL-TV Eyewitness News obtained the message, which was sent in response to another e-mail by a member of the second platoon requesting that select officers be provided with mountain bike training as an incentive for exceptional police work.
Personally, my reaction to this would have been: “You consider mountain bike training to be a reward? In this climate? I mean, it’s December and I’m comfortable in short sleeves. Honestly, me – I’d ask for a bonus or time off, but whatever floats your boat, man.”
However, instead Bardy said that while he supported the idea of using mountain bike training as an incentive for performance (again, really?), he nevertheless wanted the second platoon to get “back to its former proactive posture of 40 arrests a week,” and declared that he would “not send anyone who does not support these goals.”
Bardy went on to clarify that “[t]he second platoon is and has always been the one I count on. We (me, you and the 3 sgts) have to rekindle their drive and desire. This is something that is a priority for me.”
There is, of course, a problem here. It’s not that Bardy isn’t a good commander who is trying to ensure that his people are actually out doing their jobs rather than gorging themselves in donut shops, as evinced by the fact that they actually consider mountain bike training to be a reward as opposed to accursed exercise (this is something I’m still wrapping my head around). Rather, the problem is that Bardy’s words, absent additional explanation, provide for an informal arrest quota.
In 2008, Louisiana actually passed a specific statute, La. Rev. Stat. § 40:2401.1, which bars the vaguest wisp of an arrest quota. It provides, in pertinent part:
“No municipality or any police department thereof, nor any parish or any sheriff’s department thereof, shall establish or maintain, formally or informally, a plan to evaluate, promote, compensate, or discipline a law enforcement officer on the basis of the officer making a predetermined or specified number of any type or combination of types of arrests or require or suggest to a law enforcement officer, that the law enforcement officer is required or expected to make a predetermined or specified number of any type or combination of types of arrests within a specified period.”Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman responded to the release of Bardy’s e-mail by remarking, with respect to the use of arrest quotas, that: “It’s very bad policing. It’s bad for law enforcement. It’s bad for the community and that’s why the state has outlawed it.”
However, the NOPD itself responded quite differently. NOPD Spokesperson Remi Braden extolled Bardy and his e-mail, writing: “This email clearly shows that Commander Bardy regularly monitors his officers’ performance, as all commanders should to make sure the people of New Orleans are getting the best service we can provide. The commander noticed a significant drop in officer activity, wanted to know what caused it, and said he’d work with supervisors to re-motivate the troops.”
As if to put a cherry on top of her Pollyanna statement, Braden added: “This is leadership.”
The response from the NOPD is a bit disturbing. Assuming Bardy was just trying to motivate his “troops,” his phrasing was bad because, on its face, it included an informal quota in violation of La. Rev. Stat. § 40:2401.1. It’s kind of hard to get around that.
Now, I’m perfectly willing to be charitable to Bardy and assume that he wasn’t intending to promulgate an arrest quota, but rather remarking that arrests were down, but not crime, and based upon that and other factors he believed that the second platoon had become less active in solving crimes. E-mail is a quick-and-dirty method of communication; we should all be forgiving when it doesn’t capture the full flavor of what the writer is trying to convey.
Context also matters. Perhaps Bardy has also been truly holding his peoples’ feet to the fire for bad arrests and suspicionless stops, making arrest numbers a more reliable indicator of performance. Perhaps hundreds of unreleased e-mails establish this. I don’t know, and without more I won’t deign to publicly speculate on the conduct and motivations of a well-regarded NOPD commander.
However, what I do know is that this e-mail required additional explanation, not just a pat on the back from the brass. As WWL-TV astutely noted, the Department of Justice’s crucifying 2011 report on the NOPD pointedly noted that “[t]he Department’s organizational focus on arrests … encourages stops without reasonable suspicion, illegal pat downs, and arrests without probable cause.” Bogus and unnecessary arrests have been an ongoing problem in New Orleans, and it’s not just the feds that recognize it. In 2008, the City Council actually reacted to the NOPD’s excessive numbers of misdemeanor arrests by passing a law barring them save in certain exigent circumstances.
Given this context, the NOPD’s statement in response to Bardy’s e-mail should have at least said something about a poor choice of words and offered a broader explanation.
It is Bardy’s job to motivate his people, but he has to do it the right way. The NOPD needs to immediately and unequivocally disclaim any communication that would tend to suggest that it overemphasizes arrest statistics, or worse, that it relies on informal arrest quotas. The fact that it elected not to do so shows that we still have a long way to go in enacting the reforms the department needs. In short, Bardy’s words may have been innocuous; the NOPD’s response was not.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.