You’re driving home from work on a stretch of road you’ve driven hundreds of times before, and without even thinking, you start to push the speed limit, just a little. You do it practically every evening without problems, so why should tonight be different? But as your rearview lights up with blue and red, you realize with chagrin that it’s the last day of the month.
The notion that police officers write more tickets just before a new month begins in order to meet quotas is accepted wisdom among drivers. In the latest installment of Gawker’s mailbag Q&A with an anonymous cop—he spent five years with the NYPD and now works as a reserve officer in another city—he addresses whether it’s actually true. (His answer may not surprise you.) If you have a question you’d like answered in the next installment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave it in the comments.
But we’ll get to that in a second. Today’s first question comes from reader Anne, who wonders, after the seemingly endless string of recent killings by police, how cops are dealing with the idea that maybe people don’t like them as much as they used to.—Andy Cush
I wonder how he feels about the public’s changing opinion of cops. I’m a white, middle class woman living in a nice town, but even I have begun to feel a sense of hatred and fear every time I see a cop.
On one hand, cops didn’t become cops to be loved. That’s what the fire department test is for. And whether you like them or not, they still have a job to do, and they will do that job regardless of your personal opinions. The reality is that, current events not withstanding, most people in your shoes probably didn’t think much of the cops at all. I mean maybe you had a general positive feeling, but nothing really concrete. Maybe you called us once for an identity theft report or you got pulled over for speeding, but generally many people don’t think about us.
As for how I feel about it? I’m not thrilled about it. I wish it was different. It becomes really easy to paint us all with a broad brush, which then allows the cops to return the favor and paint people as either “for us” or “against us.” It doesn’t get any of us anywhere really, but I’m not sure what the solution is. I mean, I’m doing this Q&A anonymously, so that should tell you we have a bit of a ways to go.
How much pressure did you have to “make numbers” each month? Did anyone ever actually us the word ‘quota?’
In the NYPD, there was totally a quota. I think they might have actually called it a Minimum Monthly Performance Standard, but everyone else knew it by its name. The standard was that you needed a book of parking tickets (they came in packs of 20) and five moving summonses. And as you might imagine, when you have a job to do and a month to complete it, oftentimes you start working on that goal later than you meant to. Which means that toward the end of the month, guys are hungry for summonses. Yeah, your chances of getting a ticket go up towards the end of the month. There was some leeway: December was usually lighter because cops traditionally didn’t like writing starting the week before Christmas and continuing to New Years.
And lest the people start believing that tickets were written for bullshit reasons, you should know how easy it is to get a parking ticket in NYC. You can’t park 15 feet within a hydrant. Have you ever measured that? It’s a shit ton of space. Also, double parking is a fine, regardless of if there’s someone in the car—especially if you leave your kid or 99-year old grandmother in there while you run in. So while people hate parking tickets, most people get them because they deserved them. If anything, the issue is the signage, which is confusing, and that’s DOT’s area.
Do you like the show Law and Order or is it a complete 100% piece of Hollywood BS?
I love Law and Order. That and Homicide were probably the most accurate TV shows ever written. One time at New Year’s about a thousand cops were mustered up in Times Square getting our assignments for NYE and Jerry Orbach and his wife came walking down the street and passed in front of the formation. The cries of “Lenny!!” went like a wave from one end of the block to another. He was a really nice guy.
Having said that, it’s not all that realistic. They handled cases alone that the regular squad guys wouldn’t, like homicides or bank robberies or art thefts. I get it. No one wants to see the mundane life of a detective. They had cases every week that most guys might have a few times in their career, all wrapped up neatly in 45 minutes. So it was realistic more for its portrayal of NYC and the police department as a whole than lives of detectives.
Do you think that cops are scared of the general public? It seems that a lot of the recent cases involved an “officer being in fear for his life” or “for the safety of the officers”. It seems that cops are pretty anxious in dealing with the public—even though law enforcement, statistically speaking, isn’t all that dangerous. That can lead to some itchy trigger fingers when you think the world is out to get you.
I’m not sure that scared is the right term. Wary or suspicious maybe. It’s why cops can be generally terse when you’re talking to them. And while the actual numbers of deaths show that statistically speaking its not that dangerous, the actual facts on the street belie that. So if I end up rolling around with a guy on PCP who is naked at least once a week, he may be a small minority of the neighborhood, but my interpretation is skewed because we do the naked PCP foxtrot a few times a month.
The other thing is that while most people don’t see footage of officers being attacked, cops see it all the time. From actual training videos to footage shared on Facebook feeds from cop to cop, the images and specter of danger are there. And also remember that the stats you’re citing are for deaths—many more officers are hurt while doing their jobs. While I might be on guard around the public, my trigger finger isn’t itchy. I know that pulling that trigger instantly makes that one of the worst days in my life, and so I’m not eager to shoot anyone. However, I am eager to go home, and that split-second mental back-and-forth plays out a lot.