By The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Sheriff's deputies have been competing in organized contests to see who could make the most arrests, who could impound the most cars and who could question the most gang members.
The contests were meant to boost morale and motivate deputies, but some observers are crying foul, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
One of the competitions, outlined in an internal Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department e-mail, was ''Operation Any Booking.'' The object of the contest was to see who could arrest the most people in a 24-hour period.
''It's just a friendly competition to have a little fun out here,'' said Lt. James Tatreau, who helped organize the events. ''It's a morale booster.''
Tatreau said that when he joined a station in Lakewood, he noticed some patrol deputies made 15 to 20 arrests a month, while others made seven arrests in an entire year.
The prize for winning was ''bragging rights,'' Tatreau said.
Several police observers were not impressed.
Hubert Williams, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation, said the competitions were ''highly problematic and inappropriate.''
''The arrest is one of the most potent tools in the possession of law enforcement and should be used with great thought,'' Williams said. ''It's not a competition or a game.''
Los Angeles County Public Defender Michael P. Judge, wondered if the games could prompt deputies to make illegitimate arrests to boost numbers.
''Certainly, it calls into question whether there was a legitimate reason to book any of the people who were booked during the time of the competition,'' Judge said.
According to a Times review of records, Operation Any Booking did not result in an increase in arrests on the day of the contest.
But the impound competition may have increased the number of vehicles seized, with records showing a spike in vehicle seizures the day of the contest.
Sheriff Lee Baca said the competitions were a well-meaning but poorly conceived idea that promoted ''the wrong values.''
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''We're not into numbers, we're into quality,'' Baca said. ''I don't think it will occur again.''