Boys In Blew: Australian Cops Caught Faking 258,000 Breathalyzer Tests

from the blowing-on-the-nipple-of-what's-easy dept

Reason number a billion why quotas for law enforcement are a bad idea: they encourage the worst behavior. The Victoria (AUS) Police recently performed an internal investigation into breathalyzer tests deployed 17.7 million times over the last 5-½ years. Prompted by an “anomaly” in the data, investigators uncovered something horrific and ridiculous all at the same time: Victorian cops blow… thousands of times a year.

Victorian police faked more than a quarter of a million roadside breath tests in what appears to be a deliberate ruse to dupe the system.

An internal investigation has found 258,000 alcohol breath tests were falsified over 5½ years, The Age has learned.

If there’s an upside (and is there?), it’s that it did not result in false arrests. These weren’t faked tests used to prosecute people for driving under the influence. These were tests “performed” to meet quotas given to officers by supervisors. Never underestimate the reluctance of many workforce members to, you know, actually perform work.

Police believe officers may have been blowing into the breathalysers themselves, most likely due to laziness and the need to meet targets.

The anomaly first spotted by the Transport Accident Commission was the lack of a credible gap between test results. In most cases, several minutes at the very least would elapse between tests of motorists. Paperwork needs to be filled out, drivers need to be conversed with and/or cited, etc. That gap wasn’t present in hundreds of thousands of tests which were performed in batches with no time gap between them. The only explanation? Police snow blow jobs.

[T]he faked tests were occurring one after the other.

This suggests two things: an officer is either placing a finger over the straw entry hole or they were blowing into the straw themselves.

Upside: faked negative tests don’t result in false arrests or prosecutions. Downside: everything else. The Victorian Police have proven a quota system doesn’t work. The officers have proven they can’t be trusted to do their jobs. The latter is at least as significant as the quota issue. If officers are too lazy to hit quotas on breathalyzer tests, what other corners are they cutting while chasing numbers — whether it’s traffic citations or closing investigations?

The investigation does prove at least one thing: officers are abusing the trust placed in them, both by their superiors and the general public. The only factor that appeared to deter test fakery was direct oversight.

It was not a practice found at supervised drug and alcohol bus testing sites.

What will happen to all these lazy officers who abused the trust placed in them? Probably not much of anything. Despite this having been made public, accompanied by statements from police officials confirming the accuracy of the report, government officials further up the ladder — the oversight — appears to be withholding judgment until they are “comprehensively briefed.” If heads roll, it will hopefully start up top and continue through the rank-and-file.

But heads won’t start rolling. The culling will probably target the inanimate objects first. The quota system is effectively dead. It will be the scapegoat sacrificed so lazy cops can keep their jobs. It definitely should go, precisely because it encourages this sort of behavior. But it shouldn’t be the only thing on the chopping block as the Victorian police seek to bring an end to this unflattering news cycle. Laziness is ingrained behavior and faking breath tests may prove to be the tip of the iceberg. Everything still underwater potentially contains serious civil liberties violations. The sooner the Victorian Police digs into officers’ behavior in all areas of their jobs, the sooner it can began regaining the public’s trust.

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Comments on “Boys In Blew: Australian Cops Caught Faking 258,000 Breathalyzer Tests”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How to screw things up with no benefits

If I understand this correctly, the officers weren’t faking test to put people in jail, they were just faking them to get the quota numbers they needed? No additional income from fines. No reduced numbers of drunk drivers on the road. Just meeting a quota to keep their jobs, and those cops have now proven they don’t deserve their jobs…due to a severe lack of integrity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How to screw things up with no benefits

In the Military, they know to never give a command that you know will not be obeyed. Unreasonable quotas result in workers finding ways around them. For banks and ISPs it means customer service is suffering along with their reputation. If they seem too large to care, they are secretly working with the government and you are now the stupid sheep they sheer at will.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: How to screw things up with no benefits

Both the cops who faked the tests and the idiots who put forth the quota in the first place need to be fired.

The first for a demonstrable lack of integrity as you noted, the second for being so stupid as to put forth a quota system and not realize that it would incentivize if not require that sort of action.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How to screw things up with no benefits

If officers are too lazy to hit quotas on breathalyzer tests…

No reduced numbers of drunk drivers on the road.

There’s an inherent requirement to running a breathalyzer test on a stopped motorist. There has to be suspicion that he’s drunk.

Would you prefer cops that run you through a breathalyzer test "because quota", or one that faked breathalyzer tests "because bullshit quota"?

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re: How to screw things up with no benefits

There’s an inherent requirement to running a breathalyzer test on a stopped motorist. There has to be suspicion that he’s drunk.

Not in Australia (or NZ, or UK) there doesn’t have to be.

The police can pull any driver over at any time, with or without suspicion, to conduct a roadside Random Breath Test (RBT) or, in some states at least, a Random Drug Test (RDT), on the driver of any vehicle (drivers only, can’t be done on passengers).

All police cars have RBT equipment (the hand-held type) and can pull over anyone to test, at any time.

Sometimes they’ll set up roadside "Buses" where there could be a score or more of police set up for an hour or 2 pulling over thousands of drivers. Typically along major roads, during known busy-hours, 6pm peak traffic, or midnight-early am’ish Friday/Saturday night catching party-goers. The ‘Bus’ is a truck or bus for image with higher-end testing kit, the same benchtop-type equipment that would be found in a police station, where if the roadside "blow in here" test turns up a positive result, the now suspect can be taken to perform a more accurate test. If they pass that test in the bus they are free to go, otherwise drunk driving charges follow.

Wilhelm Arcturus (user link) says:

There is no metric that can't be gamed

In a way I want to applaud these officers, at least they tried to find a way to meet their quotas with inflicting pain on the general public. Of course, if they had started trying to hit their numbers for real they might have stirred up enough complaints to get their command to rethink their policy. Or maybe not. We’ve seen worse here.

My whole adult life at every job I have faced the need of management to quantify worker productivity via BS metrics that incentivize the wrong behavior, sometimes comically so. Sometimes you can call it for what it is. In software if your best performers won’t play the game you can’t afford to fire them, so they just change the metrics every year or two in hopes of finding something that works. It keeps HR looking busy.

But a police department, with no accountability outside of its own structure? Or at a place like Wells Fargo, where if you don’t meet your new account quota they fire you with a black mark that keeps you from getting another job in the industry? Forget about it. People will resort to all sorts of things to keep their jobs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There is no metric that can't be gamed

Especially if a quota is set so unrealistically high that no one can reasonably meet it.

Here’s a situation:

You get a new job and all your co-workers are falsifying their work just to keep their heads above water. Are YOU going to be the one who does things properly and then gets written up (and likely fired) for poor performance while still on your 30/60/90 day probationary period?

Getting fired from a job for refusing to bend our ethics happens to many of us, especially when we’re young and idealistic. But it rarely happens a second time.

Anon says:

Re: There is no metric that can't be gamed

Too true. The article is replete with accusations that this is “lazy cops”. More likely, the department sets unrealistically high quotas – which means that to meet them, the front line officers would have to randomly pull over drivers non-stop who display no signs of impairment. Why should they harass random drivers with no probable cause just to keep some head office bureaucrat happy? So they have a breathalyzer for when they think a driver needs to be checked, and outside of that, they don’t inconvenience the general public. (Did these quotas take into account time of day, for example? I’d be less unhappy with random checks on Saturday night than Tuesday morning; but odds are some paper-pushing head office drone doesn’t think of that. Also, encouraging police to pull over people at random is also a quick way to bring out their profiling subconscious – also not conducive to good community relations.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: There is no metric that can't be gamed

Exactly. This is just more of Tim Cushing’s derangement showing through. Ingenuous cops, faced with a stupid requirement from management, do what ingenuous workers everywhere do when faced with a stupid requirement from management: they find the best way to technically meet the requirement. These police found a workaround that–as the article even acknowledges–didn’t harm anybody, but that doesn’t fit Tim’s "law enforcement is evil" ideology, so he twisted it into "these horrible lazy cops are being lazy and untrustworthy."

Here’s an alternate interpretation that is actually consistent with another point that Tim loves to harp on in these ridiculous non-tech-related articles he loves to post on here even though they don’t really belong on a tech blog: we are living in a period in which crime is going down across the board. The quotas don’t mesh well with a reality in which there just aren’t enough drunk drivers to pull over and administer breathalyzer tests to, so the police officers were simply making the best of a bad situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: There is no metric that can't be gamed

These police found a workaround that–as the article even acknowledges–didn’t harm anybody, but that doesn’t fit Tim’s "law enforcement is evil" ideology, so he twisted it into "these horrible lazy cops are being lazy and untrustworthy."

Well, I’ll say they’re at least showing their stupidity and shortsightedness, which seems pretty fundamental for being a cop.

If they meet this "stupid metric" consistently, do you think the requirements will go up or down?

Canuck says:

Re: Re: Mason Wheeler shits the bed again

Yeah, it’s all Tim Cushing’s fault. The lying cops are just innocent bystanders to management’s unreasonable quotas. In Mason Wheeler’s world, lying cops are just peachy.

And how “ingenuous” to take multiple back to back breath readings. No way that’ll backfire.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Mason Wheeler shits the bed again

So where does the flaw in my reasoning lie?

Your words seem to indicate that the quotas are not, in fact, unreasonable, which puts you at odds with pretty much everyone here, including the original article.

If that’s not your intention, then what do you think would have been a better way to handle the problem? Having the police officers risk their jobs by doing nothing? Having them attempt to “honestly” meet the quotas by pulling over people who had done nothing wrong, just because they needed someone to give a breathalyzer test to?

It seems to me that, when faced with nothing but bad options, they took the least-bad option available, the only one that ended up harming no one at all, and they ought to be commended for it, rather than excoriated by rabid ideologues.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Mason Wheeler shits the bed again

Mason, if you were actually right about Tim hating cops there would be no articles in which he pats them on the back for doing good, like the time one kind-hearted fellow bought shoes for a homeless guy or that time a cop was filmed carefully and politely explaining what he was doing.

He hates cops who behave badly, as do I. What is the point of handing power over to bullies and thugs?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Mason Wheeler shits the bed again

It seems to me that, when faced with nothing but bad options, they took the least-bad option available, the only one that ended up harming no one at all, and they ought to be commended for it, rather than excoriated by rabid ideologues.

Yeah, because in terms of quotas, meeting them always cause the requirements to go down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Mason Wheeler shits the bed again

And what’s your point? There’s only so much workers can do when faced with managerial stupidity imposed from above; why treat police as if they’re somehow different in this regard?

I’m arguing that what you call "ingenuous" is fucking stupid. I thought that was obvious.

I also think that commending them for being fucking stupid, as you’re suggesting, is just more fucking stupid.

To summarize, I’m saying you’re pretty fucking stupid for making that argument.

nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: There is no metric that can't be gamed

Not only can every metric be gamed, nearly every metric is poorly implemented and selected because making a proper metric is incredibly hard work for management, especially when applied to a largish population doing all sorts of differing work.

For example, in software the metric from management used to be how many lines of code you produced. That led to a proliferation of comments, which caused the comments not to be counted. That led to the elimination of macros and lots of continuation lines, which led to style formats being dictated, etc. Rather than admit that their metrics were stupid and not really measuring what they were alleged to measure, even counterproductive, management kept trying to dictate things that were in direct conflict with getting the job done properly.

Consider the cops in this case. Do you think management was intelligent enough to set different quotas for the cops in sleepy suburbs and those working the party district? To account for the differences in drunken driving in December and that in March? To track changes in population, popularity of the various hangouts, etc? I doubt it very much. Just as the workers were trying to make their life easier, management almost certainly wasn’t willing to do the work to make up a set of realistic metrics.

All in all, I’m not blaming the cops in this situation without more data. Calling them lazy and unwilling to do their job is not warranted with this little information, and I think the article’s author is showing his bias. Or does the author think that every article should only be judged on how many words it contains, no matter the subject?

Just because cops were cheating on a management directive doesn’t mean that the directive was either sensible or reasonable.

Nemo says:

Re: Re: There is no metric that can't be gamed

Way late to the party here, but I havenh’t seen this said: While Cushing’s frustration with dishonest police, and let’s keep in mind that the police were dishonest, can show through at times, the error of his statements about “lazy cops” isn’t what his detractors say it is.

The trouble it poses is that his language calls for those police to solve the problem by testing and arresting more people. By calling them “lazy”, what he’s literally saying is that the police should have been doing more of something that (I believe) he objects to: random searches. Lots more, you lazy bums.

While I don’t think he’s entirely wrong on either point, his attempt to pair a message about the police officers with his story about police policy, and ended up jumbling them.

The lines are connected, cops and metrics in the same story, but it’s hard to pull off both a message that the metrics are too high and that the people charged with meeting them should have met them, in spite of that.

That’s unfortunate, but error is enough to account for what;’s happened with this article. No need to assume a conspiracy, or conspiratorial thinking such as comments about being him entirely anti-police try to place on him, but show such that thinking on their part far more than Cushing’s. Such accusations assume that Cushing has a “hidden agenda” or suchlike, and guess what happens when people start thinking in those terms?

Of course, the above doesn’t apply to those who are lying to discredit him (to remark on other sightings). that’s a horse of a different feather.

While there’s a long list to reference when it comes to “hidden agendas”, such as 9/11 Truthers, Bilderburgers, Rothschilds, HAARPers, MonSatan/GMOers, and so forth, there’s a better reason to guard oneself against such thinking: It impairs your thinking overall, it predisposes you to confirmation bias, and makes you more vulnerable to being hoodwinked, not less. Of course to do so, you might have to admit that you were wrong about something important to you, and no one likes doing that, so most who engage in conspiratorial thinking will look for ways to excuse or deny what they are doing.

Self-deception is the most dangerous kind of deception there is, and the hardest to avoid. Doesn’t help that once we start down that path, we fight like hell to stay on it.

Anyway, late, but perhaps someone will read this and benefit from it in some way. Thanks for your time, oh hypothetical reader.

Richard Bennett says:

This article is nothing but theatrics. The accuracy of the results utterly unimportant because only the ideas in the tests matter. Civilian drivers are unruly plebeians who need an authoritarian boot up their ass as a reminder to keep in line, but obviously you can’t have that sort of order and peace on a left-liberal leaning site like Techdirt.

David says:

I can see how this plays out:

“Sir, you’ve been driving in zigzag lines and hardly managed to come to a stop. Have you been drinking anything?”

“Just 15 beers and two bottles of wine.”

“Please don’t come near our breathalizer. If we have to take your personal details, we’ll lose so much time that we have no chance meeting our test quota.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ^^^^ This

The quotas probably were not reasonable (although that may not be the reason for the faking).

Sometimes, there just aren’t any cars moving erratically as if driven by a drunkard. What are the cops supposed to do in that situation, pick some random innocent person and make them give a breath sample for no reason except to meet a made-up quota?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You sure about that?

Finally! Someone who gets it.

Yes, perhaps the officers are lazy. Yes, perhaps the officers were inept.
Or maybe the quotas were unreasonable or impossible. Maybe officers were posted somewhere with few motorists (with fewer tests). Maybe the officers were tied up with more important duties or were deployed elsewhere.

To spend four paragraphs attacking officers based on an unfounded opinion reflects really poorly on both Tim and Techdirt. Tim, if you’re trying to just portray yourself as anti-police, you’re doing a fine job of it. I’d rather read articles from other Techdirt authors that have balanced opinions and rely on facts. And by the way – Australia isn’t like the US. Australians haven’t lost trust in our police officers.

Altaree says:

Too bad NY cops didn't do this with stop and frisk

Stupid quota’s were quickly met so the officers could get back to their real job: Protecting the public.

If only the NYPD did the same thing and just filled out their forms in the morning before doing actual “Community Policing”.

I keep waiting for a manager that believes the developer productivity is measured by lines of code.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Assumption of Laziness

I am skeptical that failing to complete quotas was a sign of laziness. Quotas are a long noted issue in jobs like law enforcement – it assumes not just a level of crime, but that the officer will encounter and positively identify signs of the crime in passing. At best, it leads to manipulation of the numbers. At worst, it leads to over enforcement and pretextual harassment. In the case of drunk driving, the signs are already pretty nebulous. We have seen a number of stops thrown out because the signs seen were insufficient. If the quota manipulation was widespread, as suggested, it might suggest unrealistic quotas, combined with a practical force unwilling to make pretextual stops to fulfill quotas rather than actually policing. Something Techdirt is normally against, and I am quite confused as to the assumption of laziness presented in this article.

Anonmylous says:

Assumptions all around

The article makes the assumption these are lazy cops. I don’t agree with that without more information. A lot of commenters point out that we don’t know the quota number or other things, and that is true. (things like traffic accidents and fatalities caused by drunk driving before the policy was in place, since it came into place, etc)

The devil’s advocate says that there must be some way for the system to monitor work performance for officers, and that is true too. In a lot of the US, that way is through Citizen Interaction reports. Rather than require X number of arrests or breathalyzers or such, officers are required simply to note the details of each of each interaction with a member of the public, and the result, and turn it in each day.

Using any other action, aforementioned breathalyzers, vehicle searches, frisks, or arrests, ignores all the times an officer interacts with a member of the public for reasons that do not result in any of those, and police administrations know this. So this was simply bad policy for either appearances sake or to persecute a specific sector of the public.

Ed (profile) says:

How breath testing is conducted

I see a few commenter here making the assumption that US breathalyser practice applies in Australia. But that is not how breath testing works here. In Oz the police set up a breath testing station, usually on an access road that is difficult to avoid, and then stop and test most cars that drive by. It is not necessary to see erratic behaviour. On busy roads some cars will be waved through at random so that traffic does not build up too much. We call this random breath testing.

The reasons that cops here would fake breath tests are either that they get tired and want to go home (unlikely since they work set hours) or that there’s not enough traffic on the night to meet quotas.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How breath testing is conducted

In addition, the first test is more of an indicator. If it’s below the limit, the driver can continue. It takes a couple of minutes.

If the driver blows over the limit, they are required to accompany the officer to the nearest testing station or police station to confirm the reading with much more accurate equipment before any penalties are laid out. Needless to say, this can take quite a bit of time.

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