Monday, September 20, 2010

Uh, I Can't Remember, Doesn't Cut It!

Great story by Joel Rubin at the LA Times, apparently LA Police have frequently claimed in court to not remember the details of citations that they issued resulting in a dismaying number of cases being dismissed.  The LAPD brass is pissed and has issued a memo, telling the cops to work on their recall, or else.  An excerpt from Rubin's story follows:

Los Angeles police officers have been told they face possible discipline if they ask a judge to dismiss traffic charges against motorists when they can't recall the details of the alleged infractions, according to an internal memo sent to officers by top LAPD officials.  Under a new directive, . . .'officers are required to testify to the best of their ability' and, in instances in which they cannot remember what occurred, must base their testimony on what they wrote on the citations.

The order upends a long-used, unofficial practice of traffic judges granting officers' requests for a case to be dismissed when they have what is referred to in police shorthand as N.I.R. — no independent recollection.

The ban has angered the leaders of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, who represent the LAPD's nearly 10,000 rank-and-file officers and have demanded to meet with department officials to discuss the change. Paul Weber, president of the league, questioned the ban on dismissal requests, saying it created unreasonable expectations, especially for traffic enforcement officers who write dozens of tickets each week.

'Officers shouldn't be put in a position where they are trying to force these [tickets] through,' Weber said. 'It doesn't matter what they wrote on the ticket. What matters is their ability to articulate what they saw and why the driver broke the law. People have a right to confront their accuser, even in traffic court, and we have to be able to put on a case. If we can't do that because we don't remember, then that person should be let go. That's the way our system is built.'

Deputy Police Chief David Doan said it is for a judge to decide whether a case should be dismissed. "We felt we needed to remind our people of their obligations," Doan said in an interview. 'If they need to write down some notes to remind themselves later of what happened, then they should be doing that. But to just say 'I'm not going to testify' is not acceptable.'

Los Angeles Superior Court officials alerted the LAPD and the city attorney's office this summer after traffic judges and other courtroom staff raised concern over what seemed to be a surge in the number of officers asking for cases to be dismissed. [ . . . ]

The issue touches on a perennially sensitive issue in the LAPD and other urban police departments: How supervisors can increase officers' productivity and write more citations — which puts more money in city coffers — without overstepping labor rules that forbid them to implement ticket quotas. Officers frequently grumble about the pressure they feel to write more tickets, while their supervisors, in turn, must answer pointed questions from higher-ups about dips in a station's citation totals.

Through the middle of August, LAPD officers wrote 512,211 traffic citations — a nearly 3% increase over the same period last year, but a 5% decline over 2008 figures, according to LAPD statistics.  One officer, who requested that his name not be used out of concern he would be disciplined for criticizing the ban, said he worried that the new policy places an unspoken pressure on police to testify to details that they might not remember and puts them in a no-win situation. 'It's a tightrope. If you're on the stand and you get it wrong then the public suffers. But if you ask the judge to do the right thing and dismiss the case then you face discipline.'"
Ah, the implications of this story are amazing.  You can imagine he cross-examination of LA cops from now on. "Sure you remember, officer . . . ?


  1. When I was an LAPD motor cop many years ago I always, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, wrote notes about every ticket I wrote, immediately after completing the citation and letting the driver go. Traffic conditions, the gist of ny conversation with the driver, brief description of other people in the car, and so on, and especially any unusual actions or conditions during the entire event. I kept these in my "Officer's Field Notebooks" cross-referenced to the citation number, date, and driver's name. Never once in 25 years did I have say to a judge or attorney "I don't recall" any significant aspect of the violation I had seen, even if it had been months later. Maybe they don't teach them that kind of stuff anymore?

  2. Anon @ 5:07--

    Thanks for the great insight. I really think that the rank and file are voting their objection to the so-called citation quotas, with their "lack of recall." What do you think?

  3. I have cross-examined many cops that have stated they systematically destroy their notes.
    Bottom-line: LA needs money (like many other counties), increasing taxes and spending less is unpopular, ripping off traffic violators is an easy temporary fix.
    Traffic defendants should be prepared to defend against these type of witnesses.