A lawsuit filed by a fired Mountain View police officer alleges that department officials embraced statistics-based law enforcement, which was tantamount to an illegal quota system. A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge is expected to decide on Thursday, Feb. 2, whether the civil lawsuit over his termination should go forward to a full jury trial.
Nicolas Emmerling, 36, filed a lawsuit against the city of Mountain View in 2015 after he was fired from the police department, where he worked since 2008. The department has publicly given no specific reason for why he was terminated, but Emmerling and his attorneys argue it came as a result of his service in the California Army National Guard.
Now nearly two years old, the case and its allegations have brought to light allegations of some questionable operations at the police department. In depositions brought forward by Emmerling's attorneys, officers indicated the department was running an off-the-books quota system, tying advancement for rank-and-file officers to how many arrests, tickets and traffic stops they were making.
In testimony given last February, Officer Ranjan Singh told the court that all officers were aware the department had a "de facto quota" in effect.
"They don't give you a number, but if you don't write more, your job is on the line," Singh told the court. "It's a performance metric. A loan company keeps a loan officer ... who gets the most loans."
Singh said the emphasis on numbers would influence officers to give out citations in situations where they might normally let off people with a warning. Commanding officers didn't give out specific number targets to officers, he said, but rather they would press their officers to produce more "self-initiated" activity on a regular basis. City officials define this activity as actions taken by an officer beyond responding to dispatch or 911 calls.
"It's clear they're very driven by a desire to have high stats, and they're encouraging officers to have those stats," said Frank Busch, an attorney representing Emmerling. "To me, that's the same thing (as a quota)."
Representatives of the Mountain View Police Department and city attorney's office declined the Voice's request for comment because the litigation is pending.
According to his superiors at the department, Emmerling was fired in 2014 for showing a lack of initiative. Lt. Frank St. Clair, who served as Emmerling's supervisor, testified that he doubted the quality of Emmerling's police work based on his failure to produce enough arrests or reportable activity over a six-month term. St. Clair later recommended he be terminated, but he said the decision was never linked to a specific number target.
"The fact that he has zeroes in most months that he works under arrests is extremely disconcerting," St. Clair said in his testimony. "He had ample free time and nothing is happening during that ample free time. That's the disconcerting part of it."
Allegations of an unofficial quota system are just one facet of Emmerling's case against the city. The lawsuit focuses mainly on his attorneys' charge that he was terminated as a result of his military service. Under federal law, civilian employees are supposed to be entitled to up to five years of unpaid leave to serve in the military, with the guarantee they can return to their jobs afterward. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who enlist in military service.
Emmerling, a former U.S. Marine who served two tours in Iraq, was originally hired in 2008 as a Mountain View police reserve officer. He was later promoted to a full-time sworn officer position in 2012, but he was left on employment probation for nearly two years. During this time, he joined the Army National Guard and balanced this with his police work.
His lawyers contend that Emmerling had strong performance reviews from his supervisors, based in part off his comparatively high number of arrests, citations and field contacts. But their opinion of him reportedly soured he began to request more time off for National Guard service as well as paternity leave.
Emmerling's lawyers allege that around this time St. Clair and other commanding officers conspired to create a paper trail of poor evaluations and reprimands to create the grounds to terminate him. His legal team is seeking to get Emmerling reinstated in his job with compensation for damage to his professional career, but the precise amount isn't being specified.
In legal briefs, city attorneys argued that Emmerling was terminated because he failed to show improvement in his performance, and they dispute the notion that his military service had anything to do with his firing. Police officials knew about his military status before he was hired, and they allowed him to take a full year off in 2009 to serve in Iraq.
Judge Maureen Folan is expected this week to decide whether the lawsuit should move to a full trial, following a motion by the city for an immediate ruling on the case. The hearing is scheduled to take place after the Voice's Wednesday press deadline.
Another, unrelated lawsuit filed against the police department is also pending. A sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by former police dispatcher Annie Lohman. Lohman's suit alleges that police Chief Max Bosel made unwanted advances toward her and encouraged lewd jokes and behavior among the officers. That case is currently in the pre-trial process.