A CBS46 investigation has uncovered an incentive system that encourages police officers to write more tickets. Atlanta Police officers tell us that they are rewarded points based on their policing actions.

CBS46 Investigates first brought this system to light last month after a federal jury awarded $1.5 million to a Black transgender woman who filed a lawsuit against two Atlanta police officers for jailing her on a false drug trafficking charge. After our reporting, current and former Atlanta police officers across different city policing zones came forward to voice their concerns about the department’s performance evaluation system.

The Atlanta Police Department (APD) insists that officers are not penalized based on their point totals. But, the officers CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky spoke with said they’re often placed in undesirable zones or assigned undesirable shifts if they don’t score enough points.

Our investigation also found this isn’t the first time APD’s point system has been called into question. In 2020, former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms created a ‘Use of Force Advisory Council’ and tasked them with issuing recommendations to improve policing in the city. Among those recommendations was “eliminating performance evaluation systems and disciplinary actions that incentivize officers to make unnecessary arrests.”

We reached out to multiple police departments across the country and none of them reported having similar programs in place. See their responses at the bottom of this story.

Incentivized Policing

So, why are Atlanta’s police officers being incentivized to pull over more drivers?

“At the top left, you’ll see where it says ‘Target goals are based on an average of eight credits accumulated per day worked,’ meaning that I have to have eight points a day,” a former Atlanta Police officer, who worked in law enforcement for nearly two decades, told CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky, as they looked at the Zone 1 Performance Evaluation Chart.

This former Atlanta police officer – who would only talk with CBS46 Investigates if we hid their identity – said officers are awarded credits or points based on their actions each shift.

For example, writing a ‘traffic ticket’ earns APD officers 1.5 points while a ‘felony’ or ‘juvenile arrest’ is worth five points. Meanwhile, ‘calls for service,’ which include 911 calls, are worth 0.25 points.

“I’m not going to lie. If I think the person has the finances to pay for it, I will stack those tickets,” the former APD officer said.

“Does this system encourage officers to do police work that earns them more points?” Polansky asked.

“Oh yeah, absolutely, because I might decide to sit somewhere in the cut and wait for somebody to glide through stop signs, especially a stop sign that I know people are definitely going to miss, I will sit there and wait there for my points,” the former officer told Polansky. “I’m not going to lie. If I think the person has the finances to pay for it, I will stack those tickets. If I think that the person does not, I will not stack those tickets.”

To some Atlanta residents, the policy amounts to a reward system targeting the public as trophies.

“I am really critical of volume traffic stops,” Mary Yates said.

“I don’t like it. I think it’s ridiculous,” Jerry Middleton said. “That’s a way to produce numbers, a way to produce quotas and it’s ridiculous. It should be done away with.”

“I feel like that is setting them up to look for things that are going to score them more points, instead of what they need to be doing in general, so I feel like it may misguide them a little bit from what they should be doing, based on a point system. I don’t like it,” Brandi Brasher said.

APD Responds

Atlanta Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum defends APD’s evaluation system – calling it a way to measure officer productivity. “The values that are assigned are to reflect the time of service that it takes for that officer to meet that task,” Deputy Chief Schierbaum said.

The deputy chief told Polansky that points are based on effort and work. For example, he said “traffic stops” are fairly quick so they’re worth fewer points than “juvenile arrests,” which take up more time.

“So when you see that, that is a fair reflection of how much time is an officer out of service for those functions,” Deputy Chief Schierbaum added.

But a current officer in Zone 4 – who did not want to be identified, fearing retaliation – questioned that statement, saying if that was true, why would “calls for service” only be worth 0.25 points while “traffic tickets” are worth 1.5 points? He said both policing functions often take the same amount of time. He believes the point system may entice officers to ignore their “calls for service,” which include 911 calls, so they can do more traffic stops, which earns them more points.

“The system is heavily weighted on traffic tickets,” he added.

Still, APD insists that officers are not penalized based on their point totals. But all the current and former officers Polansky spoke with, reiterated that officers are often placed in undesirable zones or assigned undesirable shifts if they don’t score enough points.