Lawsuit claims NJ police impose a quota system

Claim alleges that officers who don't make enough arrests are punished

Philadelphia Inquirer

CAMDEN, N.J. — A federal lawsuit filed yesterday against city and state officials alleges that Camden police officers who don't make enough arrests and pedestrian stops are punished, along with those who criticize the practice.

The "quota" practice, the lawsuit alleges, is illegal.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Camden by Mount Laurel attorney Gregg Zeff on behalf of the police union, two officers and a former officer who said they had no disciplinary problems with the department until a quota system was imposed in July 2008.

Officers were told at roll call they had to make a certain number of stops within an hour, according to the lawsuit. They were told to gather names, ages and addresses, and in some cases told to photograph people for police files, the suit said.

Although the lawsuit does not specify how many stops an officer was expected to make, it said those with the lowest number in a month were put on a list of low performers, despite vacation or sick time.

Camden Police Chief Scott Thompson said there is no quota system and called the lawsuit "antics tried before to remove our process of holding police officers accountable" since 2008, when the department was restructured and violent crime subsequently dropped.

"We have never required officers to arrest or ticket a set number, period!" Thompson said, in an e-mail. "We measure their entire performance, not just one aspect of it."

The department is under state control because the city consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous in the nation.

A similar lawsuit was filed against authorities in Superior Court a year ago and later withdrawn.

"What the department is doing is illegal and improper," Zeff said after filing in federal court yesterday. "Beyond the quotas, the most outrageous thing going on here is they're ordering police to stop people for no reason."

Union president John Williamson of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, one of the plaintiffs, said, "The truth will come out."

The lawsuit alleges officers Chad Holland and Anthony Galiazzi, assigned to the Special Operations squad, were put on a list of low performers. After criticizing the policy, the lawsuit said, the two were subjected to retaliation, including transfers and salary reductions.

Both officers joined Williamson in filing the suit. Holland has left the department.

When Williamson criticized the administration as union president, he, too, was subjected to retaliation, the lawsuit said.

"I went from being an officer with a stellar employment record to someone who shouldn't be a cop," Williamson said yesterday during an interview, noting that he had been disciplined three times within six months.

The practice started after former Attorney General Anne Milgram assumed a supervisory role of the department and announced a new crime initiative for the state in July 2008, the lawsuit said. Thompson was appointed about the same time.

Milgram and Thompson are both named as defendants in yesterday's suit. Lee Moore, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, declined comment yesterday.

Thompson said officers were told that if they were not responding to calls, they should patrol high-crime areas and take a proactive approach.

"It is unconscionable that one can patrol some of the most crime-ridden areas in this county and not observe any condition that needs to be addressed," Thompson said, adding that officers were confronted about apathy. "This bruises their ego, so they file lawsuits."

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