Who’s complacent patrol officers?

by on May 8, 2017 at 2:29 am in Data Source, Law | Permalink

This study analyzes two decades of data from a municipal police agency and describes the average patrol officer career productivity trajectory. We find that declines in productivity begin immediately after the first year of service and worsen over the course of officers’ careers. After their 20th year, patrol officers generate 88% fewer directed patrols, 50% fewer traffic warnings, 58% fewer traffic citations, 41% fewer warrant arrests, and 57% fewer misdemeanor arrests compared to officers with 1 year of experience. Using a patrol officer productivity metric called Z-score per Productive Time (Z-PRO), we estimate that each additional year of service decreases an officer’s overall productivity by about 2%. Z-PRO also indicates that after 21 years of service, an average officer will be approximately 35% less productive overall than an officer with 1 year of service.

That is from a study by Luke Bonkiewicz, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

1 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz May 8, 2017 at 2:36 am

The study seems to imply patrol officers do something productive – this seems unlikely and traffic warnings and citations reduce overall productivity. Most of the laws they might arrest people on are not constructive, and if any cops are useful they are probably homicide detectives rather than patrol officers. Good to know veterans realize this.

2 So Much For Subtlety May 8, 2017 at 3:31 am

They are also more likely to be promoted. Status is reflective of many things, but in heavily unionized work places like the police force, it is often a reflection of time served. So as police officers get promoted, they spend less time on the streets writing tickets? Seems likely.

However measuring productivity through tickets alone seems pointless. An older man who knows most people in his area who lets people off with a warning is probably a good policeman.

3 Asher May 8, 2017 at 3:39 am

Another way of looking at this same insight is sampling bias. Even if they “control” for people being in similar positions, older patrol officers are not a random sample of young patrol officers from twenty years earlier. They are the patrol officers who were not promoted to other tasks.

But it is not improbable that the older officers are complacent. When LaGuardia read the comics aloud over the radio, he commented how Dick Tracy was so trim and fit – commenting that many of NY’s finest at that time were a bit heavy and out of shape.

4 Alain May 8, 2017 at 10:30 am

This combined with the note below about size of police force changing over time likely explain a great deal. Oh and finally, perhaps, changing enforcement patterns.

5 Art Deco May 8, 2017 at 10:43 am

and if any cops are useful

Are there any libertarians who aren’t nuts at some level?

they are probably homicide detectives rather than patrol officers. Good to know veterans realize this.

Homicide detectives are useful, but it’s patrol officers who keep hoodlums in check (when the patrol officers aren’t discouraged by politicians).

6 The Centrist May 8, 2017 at 11:17 am


7 SN May 8, 2017 at 12:16 pm

But the question is comparing 1st yr officers vs 20 yr patrol officers. If the mediocre police stay on patrol with those viewed as the “best” posted outside of the patrol branch (whether promoted or just in specialized units), you aren’t comparing the same pool of individuals. Also, the study essentially assumes that more “output” = better results. Your comment about discouraging hoodlums is a good point – a veteran officer might prevent crime from happening (due to local knowledge and relationships) while a rookie might only be able to arrest the person. Most people would prefer not to get robbed at all, but a prevented robbery wouldn’t show up in the veteran’s stats.

8 P Burgos May 8, 2017 at 12:29 pm

I had to look up the definition of “directed patrol.” From reference.com

‘Directed patrol is a proactive law enforcement method that addresses criminal activity within defined areas. This type of patrol is designed to prevent crime before it begins. Directed patrol officers receive specialized training to foster community involvement and support.’

So directed patrol appears to refer to cops working a beat where a disproportionate amount of criminal activity occurs in order to try and deter crime through their presence (and also perhaps by talking to people and trying to change drivers of crime, such as closing down a liquor store that violates city ordinances). So from year one to year 20, you get an 88% reduction of what may be the most impactful and valuable activities that cops engage in. Directed patrol doesn’t sound like cops merely writing tickets for traffic violations or misdemeanors.

9 The Centrist May 8, 2017 at 11:13 am

What a bunch of crapola. Have you not driven in rush hour traffic lately? Or walked your kid to school across roads where people run red lights?

10 Kevin Burke May 8, 2017 at 2:39 am

How much of the output after 1 year is socially-un-optimal zeal like ticketing people for driving 68mph in a 65mph zone?

11 prior_test2 May 8, 2017 at 6:14 am

Yep, a police officer’s job is a bit more than acting as a robotic enforcer of all rules, regulations, and laws.

12 carlospln May 8, 2017 at 2:43 am

As if these ‘tick ‘n flick’ metrics represent not only the job design of a policeman, but how he adds value to a community?

What about preventing crime in the 1st place, cultivating relationships in neighbourhoods, in order to develop trust in the police by citizens, especially kids, and engender respect for law & order?

What a crock of shit.

13 thfmr May 8, 2017 at 3:38 am

Laughably ill-conceived study. I’d hope my local police failed it miserably.

14 Bryce May 8, 2017 at 11:30 pm

I’m legitimately embarrassed that my favorite econ blog links garbage like this. Sure, Tyler may be just posting random shit without much thought to increase his blog output… but if I wanted that I’d go Salon.com.


15 Aidan May 8, 2017 at 2:46 am

Would a valid reading of this be “New officers are initially over-enthusiastic about booking people and/or worried about letting people off with something that’s important but they don’t know much about, as time goes on they learn to better judge what’s important and what isn’t”? I mean, I get that productivity is useful to measure, but my mental image of a place that’s “well policed” is one with very few arrests indeed. Why use a means of measurement that penalizes officers who diffuse potentially problematic situations with informal diplomacy and rewards those who give out endless tickets for minor traffic violations.

16 TMC May 8, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Bingo. New cops are kind of dicks, then the mellow out and are become productive.

17 Ali Choudhury May 8, 2017 at 2:58 am

It would probably be more useful to correlate length of service with crime trends and time spent in doughnut shops.

18 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ May 8, 2017 at 9:27 am

Crime down, donuts up, being the win-win.

19 Randy May 8, 2017 at 10:02 am

More likely those things rise and fall together.

20 The Centrist May 8, 2017 at 11:15 am

Is that 50 year old donut wisecrack the best you can muster?

21 chuck martel May 8, 2017 at 6:25 am

Marginal value applies to a police force just as it does to anything else. The first cop hired by a community is pretty important. Cop number four hundred doesn’t produce an equal benefit. The outlay by taxpayers increases with more cops but the overall and individual value decreases.

22 Troll Me May 8, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Marginal utility theories might easily be applied to express the eventual negative value to continued additions to police budgets/capacities.

23 rayward May 8, 2017 at 6:40 am

The two counties located adjacent to my low country county, the one to the north and the one to the south, have this productivity thing all figured out: the local policemen spend most of their time on I-95 ticketing those passing through for speeding, avoiding offense to the locals while filling the county coffers in a way that avoids local tax increases. That’s a combination of southern creativity and real productivity. Have a day.

24 Tim Worstall May 8, 2017 at 7:36 am

Sounds good to me,. As Robert Peel didn’t quite say, the value of a cop is the crime they stop by their existence, not the number of criminals they arrest after a crime has happened.

25 Bill May 8, 2017 at 8:32 am

A good reminder that when you have states administer federal programs, if the state practices segregation, you get federal programs that primarily benefited white folks.

26 Bill May 8, 2017 at 8:33 am

responded to wrong post.

27 priior_test2 May 8, 2017 at 9:39 am

Actually, not really, as it is quite clear by this point that black people are an excellent source of money collected through police levied fines, though the connection between federal funding and local actions may not be crystal clear (think federal block grants to ‘enhance police effectiveness’) – ‘While Hoskin’s surrender of both car and $1,200 to the city may seem a matter of personal choice, the U.S. Justice Department revealed this week a “pattern and practice” of racial discrimination within Ferguson that may lend credibility to Hoskin’s account of a government run amok.

Just about every branch of Ferguson government — police, municipal court, city hall — participated in “unlawful” targeting of African-American residents such as Hoskin for tickets and fines, the Justice Department concluded this week.

The millions of dollars in fines and fees paid by black residents served an ultimate goal of satisfying “revenue rather than public safety needs,” the Justice Department found.’ http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/06/us/ferguson-missouri-racism-tickets-fines/

28 Randy May 8, 2017 at 10:07 am

“black people are an excellent source of money collected through police levied fines”

Indeed, they can always be counted on to break the rules. But yes, Ferguson is a speed trap. National emergency.

29 prior_test2 May 8, 2017 at 11:08 am

It’s not a national emergency, it is simply business as usual. Here are a few more details – ‘In March 2010, years before Ferguson, Missouri, became known for sparking the Black Lives Matter movement, the city’s Finance Director contacted the Chief of Police with a solution to the city’s budget problems.

The Finance Director wanted the police to generate more revenues from fines — money paid for infractions like traffic violations and missing court appointments. He warned that the city would be in financial trouble “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year.” “Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall,” he wrote, “it’s not an insignificant issue.”

The Finance Director’s request surfaced as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. The investigation was instigated by the civil unrest that followed the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old African American man named Michael Brown in August 2014. Its goal was to better understand why the citizens of Ferguson felt so at odds with the police department chartered to protect them.

The Justice Department concluded that the mistrust between the police and the community primarily resulted from excessive fining. “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs,” the report read. The use of fines to fund the government undermined “law enforcement legitimacy among African Americans in particular.”

Ferguson has a population of just over 20,000 that is 67% African American, and it raised over $2 million from fines and fees in 2012. This accounted for around 13% of all government revenue, and a disproportionate amount of this money came from the African American population.’ https://priceonomics.com/the-fining-of-black-america/

Of course, that article continues with a bit of analysis – ‘Is Ferguson an anomaly?

Using the U.S. Census’s Survey of Local and State Finances, we investigated the proportion of revenues that cities typically receive from fines, as well as the characteristics of cities that rely on fines the most. What are these cities like? Are they rich or poor? In certain parts of the country? Heavily Black or White?

We found one demographic that was most characteristic of cities that levy large amounts of fines on their citizens: a large African American population. Among the fifty cities with the highest proportion of revenues from fines, the median size of the African American population—on a percentage basis—is more than five times greater than the national median.

Surprisingly, we found that income had very little connection to cities’ reliance on fines as a revenue source. Municipalities that are overwhelming White and non-Hispanic do not exhibit as much excessive fining, even if they are poor.

Our analysis indicates that the use of fines as a source of revenue is not a socioeconomic problem, but a racial one. The cities most likely to exploit residents for fine revenue are those with the most African Americans.’

30 TMC May 8, 2017 at 7:23 pm

” Its goal was to better understand why the citizens of Ferguson felt so at odds with the police department chartered to protect them.”

75% of those arrested after Browns death were from out of town, bussed in to protest.

31 Thomas Sewell May 8, 2017 at 8:36 pm

” use of fines as a source of revenue is not a socioeconomic problem, but a racial one”

Doesn’t it seem a bit racist of you to imply that cities run by Blacks are overly enthusiastic about fining the locals? Why do _you_ think Black city administrations are so fine-happy? Are you suggesting it’s because of the color of the city official’s skin, rather than something more mundane like a correlation with being Democratic politicians?

32 N M May 8, 2017 at 9:50 pm

Who’s to say these cities are ‘run by blacks’ as you put it? Do you have the statistics to back this claim? Ferguson, MO, for example, has a white mayor and half the city council is white, while the other half is black. Not exactly ‘run by blacks’ in my book, at least.

33 Brett Powers May 8, 2017 at 1:22 pm

“Productivity” reduces we hope cause cops come to realize more and more that the bulk of their duties are atavistic and counterproductive to the fostering of a healthy society.

34 ohwilleke May 8, 2017 at 10:22 pm

The usual career track for a cop is to start with petty stuff and work your way up the ladder to more serious, but less frequent crimes.

If “patrol cop” excludes those who have moved up the ladder, then you have a selection effect.

If “patrol cop” includes those who have moved up the ladder, you have a replacement of quantity for quality.

35 Kevin Postlewaite May 9, 2017 at 3:15 pm

First, I want to know how many citations the 20 year old veteran versus the number that that officer gave in their first year. How much of this is due to changing training/social norms? How much is due to officers who write lots of citations leaving the force at higher rates?

An infinitely productive officer would write no citations, simply because there would be no lawbreaking for them to cite.

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