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City of Park Ridge v. Begg





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James Murray, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff Richard Begg, a police officer with the city of Park Ridge, was suspended without pay for three days by order of the city's director of public safety because he failed to meet certain job performance standards relating to the number of traffic tickets he issued and the number of nontraffic activities he performed. That order was affirmed following an evidentiary hearing before the Park Ridge Fire and Police Commission. However, plaintiff then filed an administrative review action and the circuit court of Cook County reversed the commission, finding that plaintiff was suspended on the basis of a traffic quota system which was against public policy. On appeal to this court defendants contend that the circuit court's finding was not supported by the record.

We reverse.

At the hearing before the Fire and Police Commission the following pertinent evidence was adduced. In December 1977, Captain John Baudek, commander of the field operations bureau of the city's police department, issued an order setting traffic enforcement standards for patrol officers. The order stated, inter alia:

"With the number of miles that a patrol officer drives during a watch and the high volume of traffic in the Park Ridge area * * * it is reasonable for an officer to observe one traffic violation during a watch. Keeping in mind the midnight watch and other consideration [sic], a patrol officer will be expected to issue .80 [traffic] citations per day of patrol over a standard three-month watch cycle."

The order noted that the standard was below that presently performed by many officers. Baudek also stated in the order:

"While a deviation below the standard does not automatically mean the officer is below an acceptable level of performance, I would expect his supervisor to be able to explain such a deviation if the officer is given a acceptable rating in that area of performance on his evaluation."

In his testimony at the hearing Baudek explained that his purpose in issuing the order was to set standards which were quantifiable and measurable rather than having totally subjective personal opinion standards of evaluation. Another reason for setting the standards was to reduce the number of accidents. On this latter point he testified that the number of accidents in Park Ridge had increased since the standard was set, but also stated that the traffic count had also increased in that period. According to Baudek the traffic citation standards were required to be met unless there were extenuating circumstances.

Baudek also testified that there existed a second category of activities used to judge the officers. These activities included nontraffic violations and such tasks as checking doors at the homes of vacationing residents of Park Ridge. There was no set standard established for this category, but supervisors were told what the averages were for each watch and department. According to Baudek these two categories constituted only one small part of the overall evaluation of the officers. Evaluation forms were completed by the officer's watch commander.

Lieutenant George Teune, plaintiff's watch commander, testified that those evaluation forms included matters such as the officer's initiative, promptness, and the amount of sick time he used in addition to the two categories of objective performance statistics. He estimated that those two categories counted for 40% to 50% of the evaluation. It was his opinion that establishing the objective standards had reduced the number of accidents in Park Ridge. He also noted that another purpose of those standards was to establish a norm from which superior performance could be identified. He conceded that those standards amounted to a quota system.

In an order issued April 24, 1980, plaintiff was warned that his performance on the police department was not at an acceptable level. He had used an unacceptable amount of sick time and had been suspended for one day earlier that year for the misuse of sick time. His traffic index score for 1979 was .40. His score in that category for the first quarter of 1980 was .15, the lowest in the department and well below the departmental average of .829. His score for nontraffic activities for 1979 was .76, while the departmental average for that period was 1.75. His first-quarter 1980 score for that index was .99, while the departmental average was 1.50. Plaintiff was informed in the order that for the second quarter of 1980 he had to achieve traffic index and nontraffic index scores of .80 and 1.50 respectively. He was also instructed to reduce his sick time usage, barring serious illness or injury, not to do anything requiring disciplinary action to be taken against him, and to obtain a departmental physical exam. (It is conceded that he met the latter three requirements.)

It was established without contradiction at the hearing that plaintiff failed to meet the index requirements for the second quarter of 1980. His traffic index average was .59, while the departmental average was .92 and his watch's average was also .92. His nontraffic index average was .97 while his watch's average was 1.86 and that of the department was 1.66. Accordingly, a letter of reprimand was issued and he was suspended without pay for three days.

Plaintiff testified that he was in his 18th year with the Park Ridge police force. It was his opinion that the index requirements constituted a quota and that 90% of the evaluation of officers was based on fulfillment of those index requirements. He stated that the indexes did not reflect all that he did, such as referring young drivers to their parents rather than issuing citations to them the first time. He had issued only one traffic ticket in 21 days in April because he saw none others that were "of a hazardous nature that would require a ticket." He gave as an example of such a non-hazardous violation a rolling stop with no traffic present. He conceded that in May he made a special attempt to bring up his traffic index; that month his traffic index was 1.80. According to plaintiff the highest volume activity performed by officers in relation to their nontraffic activity index was checking on vacant homes. He testified that he had seen officers marking down the time, date, location and condition of homes before they went on patrol; however, he could not recall the names of the officers he saw doing this. Plaintiff called as witnesses a number of Park Ridge police officers who testified that they considered the index requirements to be quotas and who believed that fulfillment of those quotas constituted the most important part of their evaluations. Several officers also testified that they had observed other officers noting in police records that they had checked vacant houses before they even went on patrol; however, none of the officers testified that those homes were in fact not subsequently checked.

Based on this evidence the Fire and Police Commission found that plaintiff had not met the required performance standards for traffic citations and nontraffic activities and further found that he had not established any mitigating circumstances sufficient to excuse his performance below those standards. Accordingly, his three-day suspension without pay was affirmed. The sole basis for the circuit court's reversal of this decision was ...

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