How many trespassing arrests are enough for police?
In Richmond's Gilpin Court public housing project, the magic number is 24, according to an April 12 internal police e-mail leaked to Style Weekly. The memo's raising new questions about the use of arrest quotas within the Richmond Police Department.
Richmond Police Lt. Adrianne McLemore wrote in the e-mail that officers "must have" 24 trespassing arrests in Gilpin Court by June 30: "I expect when I check our stats this will be done!"
In addition, McLemore wrote that officers must fill out 102 field interview reports (FIRs) with people in the Gilpin area.
Police spokeswoman Cynthia Price, however, says that the police department doesn't set quotas for arrests. As for the e-mail, Price says that Lt. McLemore might have "set her own internal target [for arrests] within her area," but that would be a goal, not a quota.
"The department as a whole, we don't have quotas," Price says. "There is no directive from above saying you have to have X number of [arrests for] anything."
For some, the e-mail brings back memories of Virginia v. Hicks, a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1997, Kevin Lamont Hicks was arrested and convicted for trespassing in the Whitcomb Court public housing project, where he was taking diapers to the mother of his baby. Richmond Police arrested Hicks while he was walking on the sidewalk, which is public property. The U.S. Supreme Court returned the case to the Virginia Supreme Court, which ended in a 2004 ruling against Hicks. The final ruling affirmed that police can enforce broad trespassing policies aimed at combating crime and open-air drug markets in housing projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed an amicus brief in the Hicks case, contending that the trespassing law "allows the police to harass and arrest someone who is doing nothing wrong other than not having a specific reason for being at a public housing complex," says ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.
Policies such as that outlined in the recent e-mail are "a license to harass, and it's not based on suspicious activity, but on where the person happens to be at the moment," Willis says. "This scary combination of a bad law and aggressive enforcement means that a lot of people who just happen to be walking down the street in a public housing complex could find themselves busted for trespassing. It feels more like a military state than a free democracy."
Betty Layne DesPortes, an attorney with Benjamin & DesPortes who represented Hicks, says that even though it's not illegal for the police department to set a quota for trespassing arrests, "it doesn't mean those arrests are lawful or are going to be prosecuted or result in convictions. Why in the world would a police department want to promote something like that, other than to inflate their crime stats?"
Such a policy "sends a really bad message," she says. "You arrest for the number of crimes that are committed. If you have 30 crimes, you make 30 arrests. And if you have four crimes, you make four arrests." If you set a number of trespassing arrests that have to be made, she says, then "you're bound to make unlawful arrests." S