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“Performance guidelines” lack logic

The police union were anxious to point out the difference between "quotas" and "performance guidelines" when it comes to traffic offense ticket counts. But it might be "too subtle for a lot of people". I could almost understand.

"Quotas", from what I gather, are black-and-white numbers that mark the difference between success and failure, between promotion and demotion, between hired and fired. If you hit the quota, you’re a good boy. If you miss it, you’re headed for discipline. And if you exceeded it, no-one really cares because it was, after all, just a quota.

"Performance targets", by contrast, are just targets. They are used to measure the effectiveness of traffic officers: those who make the targets get a pat on the back; those who fail are ineffective. Jobs become on the line only when failure is consistent. Police are strongly encouraged to reach these targets.

"Performance guidelines" are, to put it bluntly, a weaker form of targets, or an even weaker form of quotas. Officers should write one ticket per hour. They are, perhaps, strongly advised to write one ticker per hour, hint hint if you like your job.

The difference, however subtle, may be existent. Nevertheless, the fact remains that all three terms reflect the same principle: for a certain amount of time, a certain amount of tickets should be issued. The only real difference is the strictness of enforcement.

The strictness of enforcement, some would argue, can affect the principles behind it. While it can be true in some instances, this is not one of them. The idea is not to avoid abusive rule-breaking, as it would be with, say, school uniforms. Here, whichever way looked at, the idea is that a certain amount of tickets is expected to be written.

It is also a matter of law enforcement. Such a principle implies that, for a given time, there are always a number of people who break the law. This is theoretically flawed. It is perfectly reasonable that every car that passes an officer in an hour was reasonably law-abiding—and rather than chiding the officer for failing to meet targets, the citizens should be applauded for their good behaviour. The officer should be able to return with a smile on his face, because his community did well; not a frown because he didn’t live up to expectations.

It is this elasticity of situation that is overlooked. The infringement notices that are written should be descriptive, not prescriptive: they should reflect what happened on the road, not what was expected to happen. While statistics can show that on average, one car per hour that passes an officer is speeding, this cannot be applied to practice. Fluctuations in situation can and will happen, and "performance targets" or quotas or whatever-you-want-to-call-them simply will not reflect this reality.

Can, then, the police commissioner expect to eliminate the "human competitive nature" of his officers? While he might regard it as wishful thinking, it is in fact a poor reflection on our police force. The police are meant to be servants to the community, not enemies, and for them to compete to get the highest number of infringement notices is a shameful characteristic of an officer. The job of the traffic police is to protect the lives of those on-road, not to empty their pockets—is it really that hard to tell them that they are a team, and they are there to do a job? Ironically, it is the true crime fighters, the ones that signed up to do a job, that are the ones said to be leaving.

The whole idea of quotas-renamed is not a good one. As much as the minister and commissioner of police would seek to deny it, it is—intentionally or unintentionally—a revenue-gathering system and if the esteem held in public servants is to be maintained, a clear message must be sent out that tickets are for law-breakers, not those who fall in quotas. And denial, incidentally, does not constitute "clear message".

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. alim #


    7 July 2006
  2. Klodianemperor #

    His Imperial Highness (and Knight of the Order of the Burette) would like to point out gently that \’quota\’ has no plural. However, the Emperor must commend the rest of this article. Merry Christmas 

    23 July 2006
  3. Chuan-Zheng #

    We point out this entry on Wiktionary which clearly specifies the plural of "quota" as "quotas".  We also point out this entry on AskOxford which does not specify an irregular plural for "quota", hence implying the plural is regular.  His Imperial Highness would henceforth check the validity of his statements with his advisors prior to making them public.

    23 July 2006

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