Arrest quotas for COs?

St. Paul The performance of Minnesota conservation officers is
being judged in part by the number of citations and written
warnings they issue to the public. Opinions differ whether that
means officers are being asked to meet arrest quotas.

Bill Bernhjelm, director of DNR Enforcement, says that total
enforcement activity, as measured by citations and written
warnings, plays into performance evaluations of conservation
officers. The number of tickets issued by an individual officer is
compared with a statewide average of total enforcement activity and
does not represent a quota, he said.

State statute prohibits the DNR from imposing arrest quotas on
conservation officers. Quotas were contested several years ago in a
lawsuit brought forward by the conservation officer’s union. An
anonymous letter brought this latest matter to the attention of
Outdoor News.

Union President Tony Cornish, a conservation officer stationed
in Two Harbors, says he appreciates supervisors’ need to compare
officer performance, but believes the state average comparison is
really a quota. He recently sent a letter to Bernhjelm asking him
to use other evaluation methods.

“The problem is that some officers are able to make 300 to 400
arrests per year, while at other stations officers may only make 50
arrests per year, just because there are fewer resources and fewer
recreational activities,” Cornish says. “It’s hard to make
comparisons on a statewide basis.”

In Fiscal Year 1999, the statewide average was 65.3 arrests and
79.8 warnings. Bernhjelm says that officers who work in stations
with less enforcement activity often are moved to busier areas
during hunting and fishing seasons, giving them opportunities to do
more enforcement work and write tickets.

Officers who fall below the state average for arrests and have
other performance deficiencies may be required to enter a
Performance Improvement Plan, in which their work is closely
supervised. Part of that supervision includes setting a work
schedule for the officer. Typically, officers are free to set their
own schedules. Bernhjelm says some officers’ performance requires
additional supervisor attention.

“Ninety percent of the officers do a great job, but some need
extra encouragement,” he says. “The bottom line is that if you have
an officer who refuses to do the work, a supervisor may take
action.”

District supervisors are encouraged to communicate with the
officers they supervise. Inadequate work performance is typically
discussed prior to an evaluation as a matter of course.

Since conservation officers are expected to focus on law
enforcement, 65 percent of their performance evaluation is measured
by enforcement activity. Other duties, such as educational work and
public relations are evaluated, too. Supervisors are expected to
build the difference between enforcement stations into the
evaluation process.

Cornish would like to see performance evaluations place more
emphasis on the hours worked, equipment maintenance, and other
aspects of a conservation officer’s job rather than the number of
tickets written. He said that in an address to conservation
officers earlier this year, DNR Commissioner Allen Garber said that
officers didn’t need to write tickets in order to provide effective
enforcement. He hopes that this attitude will soon be reflected in
performance evaluations. If not, the union may approach the
Minnesota Legislature to change the statute to clearly prohibit
using arrest statistics for comparison purposes.

Is it possible that outdoor enthusiasts may be issued tickets
just so a conservation officer can make the state arrest
average?

Bernhjelm says no.

“We have discussed this with supervisors and the officers,”
Bernhjelm says. “We expect them to use discretion in their work. We
haven’t reached a point where we have to document every contact an
officer makes with the public.”

Also, in evaluations, equal weight is placed on citations and
warnings, Bernhjelm said. The statewide average is used only for
comparison purposes. Still, Cornish contends the comparison is
really a quota.

“If it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it must be a
duck,” Cornish says. “This looks and acts like a quota.”

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