Why It Matters How Officers Get Paid

February 18, 2014

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

When you drive by an individual pulled over on the side of the road with a police officer, you probably don’t ask yourself “I wonder how that cop is getting paid.” But you should. As local and county governments have frozen or decreased their budgets in these economic times, the law enforcement agencies charged with patrolling their streets have had to rely ever more on state and federal grants to pay for directed enforcement and officer overtime. These grants range from general patrol overtime to narcotics interdiction to DUI enforcement. The grants themselves are overseen by state and federal agencies (in many instances, a state agency supervises a federal grant statewide, like the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute).

Regardless, the grants themselves (like most expenditures of public funds) must be tracked and monitored. Usually, this results in reporting requirements to make sure that the grant is being used for its intended purpose (DUI enforcement, for instance) and to make sure that they are effective in their use (arresting a sufficient number of allegedly intoxicated drivers, for example). To that end, many grants have requirements for “minimum enforcement levels” for officers being paid by the grants.

Over the years, the language of these requirements has become more politically correct. In years past, the grants used to require a minimum number of arrests. For obvious reasons, this did not strike the public as a good benchmark for performance and worried some that officers would be arresting people simply to keep their grant numbers sufficiently high. Now, the new language replacing minimum number of arrests is “minimum contacts.” This helpful euphemism has allowed law enforcement agencies to continue to enforce at certain levels while not looking (at least outwardly so) that they are blindly focused on arrests.

It has also led individual law enforcement officers and agencies to become more creative in their patrol habits so as to keep their grant numbers high. The most common strategy currently utilized is the “flip.” This is where a police officer not working a grant comes in contact with, let’s just a say, a suspected drunk driver, will call an officer who he knows is working a DUI grant to come over and continue the investigation or work the investigation with him. This allows the officer working the grant to count the arrest on “his stats.” Unfortunately, this means that the community that was supposed to receive “extra DUI enforcement,” due to the grant, will not receive the full benefit of those extra funds.

This type of grant “financial shell game” is not a new occurrence; despite how little the communities throughout Indiana know about it. Law enforcement agencies rationalize its use because they claim that they can “more effectively” utilize their manpower. And grant agencies do not have the time to police the police and, rather, turn to the reports and stat-sheets that are delivered to them to monitor grant performance (which are ultimately destined for some government budget and accounting office far, far away). All the while, the public does not receive the full benefit of these “extra” grant funds and, instead, receives the attention of officers who have turned their focus to the “minimum” contact statistic-sheets that they must turn in at the end of each shift. In short, perhaps when you see a police cruiser pulling over a car on the side of the road, you may want to wonder “how is that officer being paid.”

If you have any questions about this issue or have been stopped by a law enforcement officer and arrested, contact the attorneys of Keffer Hirschauer LLP today at (317) 857-0160.