As a very young cop, I first became aware of "making the easy case" when I observed the habits of a certain senior cop. This particular policeman would stop speeders but seldom issue a speeding ticket. Instead, after a stop for speeding, he would look for some other charge. Ideally, he would find and charge the speeder with an expired inspection sticker or an expired tag.
That senior cop explained to me that very few violators would go to court for an expired inspection sticker or an expired tag. If they did, the violators would surely be found guilty because inspection stickers and expired tags are easy to prove in court. Those kinds of "easy" to prove cases appealed to the senior cop.
That senior cop could meet his quota, keep his sergeant happy and stay out of court on his day off by only making the easy cases. Of course, such traffic enforcement did not put any points on a speeder's license or particularly deter his speeding and thereby reduce accidents. In a sense, by making the easy cases the officer became part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
Over the years I have seen variations on the theme of "making the easy case." When I supervised a Career-Criminal Unit, one of my investigators would come to work early to try to skim the easy warrants. In this way, he could keep his stats high while avoiding the effort required to track down the fugitives who were hiding.
Usually such behavior is wasteful and a little bit noisome, but not particularly harmful. One kind of "making the easy case" is often very harmful. That occurs when the "easy case" is a dual-arrest in a case of domestic violence.
Domestic violence investigations are frequently demanding and complicated. Often the initial officer finds some evidence of mutual combat. However, a little more evidence gathering, a little more investigative work and a little more forensic analysis will usually uncover a victim and a victimizer.
When the police officer decides to make the easy case against a battered victim who finally felt forced into self defense or defense of a family member, the police officer helps the system abuse that victim again. An arrest can help maintain the helpless mind-set of such a battered victim.
In court, that arrested victim will be more likely to change her story, collaborate with the abuser, and say she was never battered. Experienced cops know this may happen regardless, and prepare for it with any domestic violence victim. The arrested abuse victim will not only be physically intimidated by the barterer, fearful of losing her children, fearful of losing financial support but additionally, feel defeated and betrayed by the justice system. The easy arrest can crush any last vestige of the will to resist.
The domestic violence literature is thick with examples of victims who gave up and committed murder or suicide. However, the most common case consists of a victim who dies at the end of an abuser's spiraling violence cycle.
Law enforcement has almost always been involved in such a case at some point and failed to correct the problem. Too often, law enforcement involvement has merely made the situation worse. We can do better.
To be part of the solution to the problem of domestic violence, exercise your discretion. Exercise your best judgment and take a little longer to make sure you are not just "making the easy case."
Chief David Frisby, of the Monticello (Fla.) Police Department, is a state certified defensive tactics instructor and has been qualified as an expert witness in police use-of-force, training and procedures. The 24-year veteran of law enforcement holds a master's degree from Florida State University.