LAPD’s Six Million Dollar Motorcycle Cops

Call it the Revenge of the Bucketheads.

Last week, the Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of motorcycle officers who claimed they had been given negative evaluations and denied access to overtime assignments for having failed to issue a required number of traffic citations.  The eleven officers will share a $5.9 million settlement.

Back in May 2011 I wrote in this space of a similar lawsuit, one of several at the time in which LAPD officers prevailed in cases against department management.  In the earlier case, a jury awarded a pair of motorcycle officers $2 million, accepting the officers’ claims that they too were punished for failing to write a sufficient number of traffic tickets.  The California Vehicle Code specifically prohibits quotas for traffic enforcement.

It’s hard to know with whom to sympathize here, that is except for the taxpayers of Los Angeles, who are on the hook for millions of dollars which surely could be put to better use than enriching a handful of cops. In looking at things first from a management perspective, if you select an officer for a motorcycle assignment, a desirable position for which there is much competition, do you not have the right to expect that officer to go out and earn his pay for the ten hours of his assigned shift?  In Los Angeles, as in most places where police use motorcycles, traffic enforcement is the motorcycle cop’s primary duty. (And good luck trying to get them to do anything else.  I once found myself alone trying to sort out a multi-car, multi-injury pileup on an L.A. freeway only to see a motor cop snake through the backed-up traffic and breeze right past me and out of sight without so much as a nod.)

The alleged “quota” for these aggrieved officers was 18 tickets in a ten-hour shift, which hardly seems burdensome.  Considering that the typical traffic stop lasts about ten minutes, anyone familiar with the peculiar ways of Los Angeles drivers can imagine writing two or three times that many in some parts of town and still having plenty of time left for lunch.

And staying with the management perspective for a bit, there is a reason motor cops are called “bucketheads,” and it’s not just the helmets they wear.  As a breed, they are among the more ornery of the species.  They are rather like the mules of police work: when properly motivated, they can achieve great things, but when the proper motivation is lacking, it’s all but impossible to get them to budge.  Many a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain have been driven to near madness (and sometimes beyond, now that I think about it) by having to deal with cantankerous motor cops.