The Nassau County Police Department has begun singling out officers who write the fewest moving violations by assigning supervisors to accompany them while on patrol for retraining, police officials said.
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said he told precinct command staff in a meeting last week to retrain officers who aren't "carrying their weight."
Krumpter said the 60 to 70 targeted officers ranked in the lowest 10 percent for issuing moving violations in each precinct and the highway patrol over several months, according to statistics compiled by police brass. Sergeants will retrain the officers on vehicle traffic law while accompanying them on "directed patrols" for up to three hours each shift, he said.
"We're looking at the people with the lowest performance in their respective commands and having their supervisors retrain them in respect to traffic safety," Krumpter said in an interview. "I'm not going out and saying, 'Everybody should go out and write tickets.' All I'm doing is focusing on the people that are well below average."
Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said having a supervisor go on patrol with officers is "demoralizing" and officers "feel like you're a child."
Union lawyers have advised Carver that the system does not appear to be an illegal quota, he said.
"We are monitoring how this is being deployed," Carver said. "And if it comes to the point that we feel it's a quota, we will take the proper action."
The State Legislature passed a law in 2010 barring police-department-mandated quotas. Critics have charged that pressure from supervisors to meet quotas may influence officers to make arrests or issue tickets without justification.
Mayors said to complain
Krumpter said officers are being evaluated against officers in their own precincts. The retraining was prompted by complaints from residents and several village mayors -- whom he declined to name -- about traffic violations going unchecked, including speeding and running stop signs.
Officers are not being given numerical goals, according to Krumpter, but he declined to say what would be considered an appropriate number of summonses.
"They're not baby-sitting," Krumpter said. "They're retraining them . . . This is not a quota issue."
Krumpter said that traffic citations are actually up about 43 percent -- 24,832 were issued from Jan. 1 to March 2 this year, compared with 17,260 issued during the same period in 2014 -- and said the retraining is not meant to be a revenue booster after the county's discontinuation of the controversial school-zone speed cameras, which resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Krumpter said it's "unacceptable" and "very frustrating dealing with a small number of people who feel they can come to work and do nothing."
For example, Krumpter said, there are officers who have worked 160 tours in a year, but only issued 15 traffic tickets.
Carver said traffic enforcement is "definitely a priority," but with the force whittled down to historic lows, it's natural that some officers' citations may decrease. As of March 1, there were 2,244 sworn officers, officials said.
Carver also attributed any dips to the frigid winter and several snowstorms, which may have caused fewer people to be out on the roads and to drive slower. In addition, the department did away with traffic enforcement officers who were assigned to precincts a few years ago, he said.
'A standard' for officers
Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and a former NYPD officer and prosecutor, said although police brass will avoid setting a numerical goal for arrests or citations to avoid running afoul of the anti-quota law, most departments have "a standard and a range in which officers are supposed to be. . . . I think supervisors are a little more careful now not to be explicit in the way they tell officers."
And having that standard is not necessarily a negative thing, especially to the taxpayer who foots the bill for a "well-paid" police force, O'Donnell said.
"You can't ignore the fact that in many police commands there are people who bring in significant numbers all the time and others who don't. And most police departments will find that intolerable."
In police parlance, officers who perform far less than average are called "a zero," said Joseph Giacalone, a John Jay adjunct professor and former NYPD sergeant, and it's the job of top police commanders to hold them accountable.
"There is no other way to evaluate police officers unless we look at their activity -- summonses and arrests," Giacalone said. "The public will be happy and sad at the same time. They're going to see more police presence, but they're also going to start getting a lot more citations."