Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Secret Cop Shopper

My wife had an interesting point about Brett Darrow, the guy who videotaped his encounter with St. George Police Sgt. James Kuehnlein on September 7th. She wonders why some smart police department hasn't asked Brett to be their equivalent of a secret shopper.

Many retail outlets hire secret shoppers to come in, browse the items in the store, interact with the clerks, maybe buy something or return something, ask some typical and atypical questions, and take notes on how the staff responds and how well they do their job. Several restaurant chains use the same approach to make sure that their wait staff are at the top of their game. When the secret shopper reports get back to the boss, they can act on them and either reward or reprimand employees for how they're doing their jobs and how well they're keeping the customers satisfied.

On KMOX Sunday night, Don Wolff asked St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa how he feels about citizens videotaping his officers on the job, and the Chief said he welcomed it. Jerry Lee, Chief of Police in St. Louis County, agreed and added that when police encounters are captured on video by cameras in patrol cars, the number of complaints has decreased by 40%. That could mean that officers are more aware that their actions are being scrutinized, or it means that the chances to fake a complaint are reduced when you know the video camera is there. Either way, both chiefs see the presence of the equipment as a positive, not a negative.

That's where someone like Brett comes in. As long as he doesn't break the law -- which St. George Police Chief Scott Uhrig admits he did not do on that Friday night -- you can use him as a secret shopper to evaluate how officers are doing in the field. Do they lose their temper too quickly? Do they respect the rights of the person they've stopped? Did they handle the always-dangerous possibilities of a traffic stop in a way that ensured their own safety? Are they pulling people over based on race? Did they read Miranda rights to a suspect? Did the suspect confess and provide information useful to a further investigation? And on and on and on.

If it's good enough for a store like Nordstrom's and a restaurant like Bandana's, surely the secret shopper concept is good enough for law enforcement.