Bell, California, Police Memo Outlines Rules for Motorist Baseball

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Wow.

A memo discovered in Bell police files appears to outline a game in which police officers compete to issue tickets, impound cars and arrest motorists.

Titled the “Bell Police Department Baseball Game,” the memo assigns “singles,” “doubles,” “triples” and “home runs” to progressively more serious infractions, starting with parking tickets and moving on to vehicle impounds and felony arrests of drivers. “Non-performers,” the memo says, are “sent for minor league rehab stint.”

The discovery of the memo comes as the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether Bell police violated the civil rights of residents through aggressive towing of cars and code enforcement. Part of the investigation focuses on claims by some officers that the department had quotas for issuing tickets and impounding cars, which they said was done to raise revenue for the city. Some officers said they were reprimanded when they did not meet goals.

It’s the first document suggesting a concerted effort to have officers pull over more cars, though it’s unclear who wrote the memo and whether department brass condoned it.

At least two Bell police officials said they were familiar with the memo, which they said circulated a few years ago. Bell Police Capt. Anthony Miranda said he thought a few patrolmen wrote it “to challenge themselves” and when department leaders found out about it, they “squashed it.”

“I think guys created it on their own and when the administration heard about it, they put a stop to it,” added Lt. Ty Henshaw. Department leaders said “It’s cool and fun and we appreciate the motivation, but it’s not going to look good.”

I suppose it’s possible that this memo and the contemporaneous complaints of illegal towing, ticketing, and other harassment of motorists, coupled with the resulting revelation that Bell city officials were drawing massive salaries while the city went deep into the red . . . are entirely coincidental. Seems unlikely, though, doesn’t it?

Also, assuming Capt. Miranda (great name!) is telling the truth, isn’t it at least a little problematic that upon learning that some of their officers were making a game of due process, Bell police officials merely “squashed” the memo, instead of investigating and disciplining the officers responsible?

Here’s my favorite part of the memo:

Honor system in place and violation will result in one day suspension.

Well of course. In our game to deprive motorists of their rights in order to enrich grossly overpaid city officials, there’s no place for cheaters! Honor among thieves, and all that.

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19 Responses to “Bell, California, Police Memo Outlines Rules for Motorist Baseball”

  1. #1 |  Joe | 

    I suspect if you are fighting some of these charges, this is piece of discovery that would be very welcomed indeed.

  2. #2 |  M | 

    I can’t see how it’s illegal to enforce laws vigorously. It should be legal to be an asshole even if you’re a cop as long as you hide it when you’re interacting with the public. They just shouldn’t have so many laws available to harass people with.

  3. #3 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    1) I’m pretty sure the “honor system” irony is lost on the police.
    2) I’m working under the assumption that the DOJ can’t shoot straight while licking badges*, so nothing will come of this.
    3) This game is not unique to Bell. Variations go on all across the country.

    *The DOJ is very good when it comes to torturing the peasant class, though.

    I can’t see how it’s illegal to enforce laws vigorously.

    M, is that really what you think the issue is?

  4. #4 |  Dante | 

    Yet another example of how those who swore an oath on the Bible to uphold the Constitution are, in fact, the greatest threat to our Constitutional rights.

    How many other police departments play games with innocent people’s money and/or lives? How many innocent people were harmed? And the kicker – what would the police do to a citizen who was caught abusing the legal process like the police in this episode?

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  5. #5 |  Irving Washington | 

    Yes, workers in many organizations spontaneously develop illegal methods of increasing revenue that accrues not to them but to the organization. They do this all the time with no encouragement from management whatsoever. Why, just the other day, I thought how easily I could knock over the liquor store and give all the loot to my boss. Think what a good year-end review I’d be in for!

  6. #6 |  freedomfan | 

    I can’t really tell from the article if this is a serious issue or just some idiots screwing around at the office (or thinking they were making a boring part fo the job somewhat interesting). Of course, it’s a very bad idea to create an incentive system where enforcing certain laws carries with it a monetary payoff or even just competitive bragging rights. It looks like the “baseball” ticketing game has both problems. But, I am having a little trouble seeing who sent the memo and if it was a higher-up or the office screwball. It’s wrong either way, but that sort of information helps decide where this belongs on the range between the extremes of “Police Department Treats Law Enforcement as a Game; Officers Score by Ticketing and Arresting Citizens” and “Dumb Memo Circulates in Police Department Office”.

    Actually, I know it’s been separately reported, but to me the bigger scam (as relating to Bell PD) is that they went along with such an undisguised scheme of policing to line the city’s coffers. I mean, I know it goes on all the time, but there is usually at least some viable patina of public safety or nuisance abatement.

    BTW, I must say that the OCR used by the times on the “TEXT” tab on their PDF of the memo is absolute crap at deciphering small print. I was having trouble reading the small print at the end of the memo, which says, “Scoring calculated as obtained and not as an overall product for the day worked. Honor system in place and violation will result in one day suspension. Non performers sent for minor league rehab stint.” I had trouble making out the word “obtained”, so I looked at the text page. What the OCR gives is “Sewing ccfculurerl vbterizzezi and am me rm the dar worked. Hmzar igwrem in plucr uml vioimimz will resid: in one eirrv szxapmsimi, Nan senijbr minor lmguc refmb xrim,” Nice! No wonder so much of what the police do is inscrutable to me…

  7. #7 |  Pete | 

    Years ago on my way to work I apparently stuck my hands a little too deep into the carbs on my ZX-7 in front of an unmarked personal vehicle carrying two uniformed officers on their way to work as well. They followed me to the parking lot of my job and then one jumped out screaming and frothing at the mouth, spitting obscenity after obscenity after me while the other just quietly stood there watching. Wrote me tickets and yelled the whole time, threatening me with all sorts of dire stuff / ‘you know what I could do you to you right now?’ etc.

    I go inside and write down down everything I can remember about what he said. Request a jury trial, and upon examining both officers, both conveniently don’t remember the anger issues or deny they happened. Then I ask them about quotas and patrol job performance, and they stupidly answer there are no quotas and there is no performance benchmark.

    “Oh really? So a patrolman or car that writes twenty tickets isn’t better than one that writes two or three? Your superiors wouldn’t counsel the low-performer at all, and there’s no risk of discipline or anything?”

    “Nope.”

    I guess that sounded totally ludicrous to the jury because I think the acquittal was unanimous, to the stunned reaction of the assist prosecutor, fresh out law school.

    He had even called me a few weeks earlier in an attempt to get me to plead to some lesser charge. I confidently told him no way in hell, that I was absolutely sure I was going to win, and that if he wanted to save himself some time he should grill the officers about what really happened.

    Well, I told him, didn’t I?

  8. #8 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Don’t you just love democracy. Look at what it has given the people of Bell…and they got it good and hard.

    Everyone be sure to vote for your favorite douche bag politician.

  9. #9 |  Brooks | 

    Cops come to the job with visions of helping people and stopping violent crime. Within 3 months they realize that half their job is playing mediator to completely disfunctional families and the other half is playing revenue generator for their municipality. Everybody becomes a suspect in a desire to uncover “real” crime, and cops are routinely exposed to only the worst that humanity has to offer them.

    It all creates a ridiculous us vs. them mentality where the cop, his family and friends are “normal” and everybody else is just another potential part of the problem. Some cops buy into this wholeheartedly. Maybe others need to come up with a game to help break up the monotony and crushing disappointment of being a government-sanctioned asshole.

  10. #10 |  Kant | 

    You know what struck me as really odd? the fact that cpt. miranda thought a few patrolmen wrote it “to challenge themselves” and yet in the memo the line “violation will result in one day suspension”

    how can there be a suspension if it was only among the patrolmen (peons) and not the higher-ups?

    Unless of course it was just among the peons and there was some prize/pot at stake, which raises other ethical and legal questions.

  11. #11 |  Kristen | 

    Radley, are you working on anything about the DC police department’s faulty breathalizer tests? I saw on the new last night that now, in lieu of breathalizers, they’ll be using police “expert” testimony in DUI cases. Because, you know, the police are “highly trained” and are totally unbiased!

  12. #12 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    Home run = The use of a baton upon a citizens head

    Well, at least I think that’s how they play.

  13. #13 |  BamBam | 

    Color me surprised. Every police department in the country violates civil liberties. If they ain’t doing it, they know about it and keep quiet. However, most laws violate liberty (even the non-purist form which concedes X, Y, and Z for “the good of society”) and thus any enforcement of said law makes one a violator of liberty.

  14. #14 |  BamBam | 

    #9, or they can find another job if they must make games to deal with the realization that they’re a paid asshole. No one can morally say they’re ok with that realization. Only an immoral person would say it doesn’t bother them.

  15. #15 |  supercat | 

    #2 | M | “I can’t see how it’s illegal to enforce laws vigorously.”

    The issue is that if a law allows authorities latitude over whether to enforce it in a particular instance, the decision of whether to let a particular “offense” slide should be based upon the extent to which particular offense harms, endangers, or inconveniences others, and not on the enforcing department’s need for revenue.

  16. #16 |  EH | 

    Kristen@11: Count your blessings, they could be using K9s instead.

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I suppose it’s possible that this memo and the contemporaneous complaints of illegal towing, ticketing, and other harassment of motorists, coupled with the resulting revelation that Bell city officials were drawing massive salaries while the city went deep into the red . . . are entirely coincidental. Seems unlikely, though, doesn’t it?

    In any profession where lying is positively reinforced, there will be a lot of lying. Furthermore, when people lie a lot, they will find it increasingly difficult not to lie or even to distinguish between lying and telling the truth.

    Law enforcement is one of those professions.

  18. #18 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    Bell California… where have I heard about this place before?

    Oh yeah, that’s the one where the part-time city manager was pulling down over $100K a year.

    The same city that also has six of the city council members on trial for corruption.

    The same city that is controlled entirely by Hispanics.

    Guess that they had to make money somehow… might as well use the police to do it.

  19. #19 |  demize! | 

    Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect. Unfortunately that’s what they expect from us.

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