Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Have traffic ticket 'quotas' turned police service into a massive money-making machine?

Blog of the week: The Power of Words

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The traffic ticket controversy seems to be gaining momentum.

Quota or no quota -- that is the question.

It's a question that was recently examined in a W5 investigative report called To Serve & Collect.

According to the report, Winnipeg is the traffic ticket quota capital of Canada.

That's another negative moniker now being used to define a city already plagued with its fair share of dubious title distinctions such as the murder, robbery and violent crime capital of Canada.

When it comes to police management, the "Q" word is about as taboo as the "F" word. It's a word "they" will just never say.

Former Winnipeg Police Service Chief Keith McCaskill was clear on the issue: "As far as I'm concerned, we'll always look at traffic enforcement as a safety issue."

Objective analysis of McCaskill's statement might lead an intuitive person to a contrary conclusion.

It's no secret the city's 2012 operating budget indicated the WPS intended to collect an additional $1.4 million in ticket revenue from traditional enforcement (front line officers handing out tickets).

At the time, McCaskill explained the target wouldn't be met by police brass setting "quotas" for front line officers, but they would be raising "expectations."

In March 2012, McCaskill was quoted in the WFP: "A quota basically in my mind is that, 'You've got to do it, that's your minimum.' No. It's sort of an expectation, sort of a measurement, and that's it. It's not a 'You must.' It's a 'We'd like you to try to do that.' If they don't get it, nobody is going to be coming to them and saying they're in trouble. It's not going to happen."

I'm sorry, Keith. That was either a big fat lie or your message got skewed somewhere between your office in the PSB and the supervisor's meetings held throughout the police service.

I was at one of those meetings where one of your divisional commanders shared your "vision."

Call it whatever you want. Front line officers were to be told they were expected to issue a minimum of one traffic ticket every 10-hour shift. Supervisors were expected to keep statistics and monitor the number of offence notices each officer issued. Officers that failed to meet police service "expectations" were to be singled out for a discussion with their supervisor regarding their performance issues.

Supervisors were also expected to deliver the message that failure to meet police service "expectations" could have significant negative career-path implications. The threat from police management was not ambiguous: write traffic tickets or good luck in the next promotion competition.

Winnipeg Police Association president Mike Sutherland had his own take on the issue: "If the traffic enforcement situation becomes more focused on revenue, and inappropriately focused on revenue, as opposed to public safety, then I think it undermines the public confidence and relationships we're trying to build."

Sutherland gets it and so does Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who indicated he disagreed with the idea of connecting traffic enforcement to revenue targets. According to Chu, the police should not use the "powers of the state" to make money because, as he put it; "That's not the purpose of why we're out there. We're out there to keep the streets safe and not to make money."

The truth is, enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act in the Province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg has evolved into a dark, immoral form of surreptitious taxation used to supplement the bottom line.

Public safety, education and awareness are all novel excuses fed to the press by police brass to justify the new aggressive traffic enforcement approach the police service has taken.

If it wasn't about the revenue, photo-radar, vehicles wouldn't be set up in speed reduced school zones on Sunday afternoons or in speed-reduced construction zones when there is no construction going on.

If it wasn't about revenue, the police service would not be calling out off-duty police officers and paying them time and a half for 10 hours to do traffic enforcement.

The police service is paying each of these officers approximately $700 for their day's work. If they write 50 tickets per day at an average of $200 they are generating $10,000 in gross revenue.

In comparison, supervisors in the crime division and district detective offices constantly struggle in their efforts to receive authorization for anti-crime projects that might incur overtime or the need to call out off-duty investigators.

Robberies, commercial and residential break and enters and gang crime have all apparently become secondary considerations in the evolution of policing in Winnipeg.

If it wasn't about revenue traffic fines would not be so incredibly outrageous: 10 km/h over the speed limit, $181.50; 15 km/h over, $246.25; 20 km/h, $312.25.

I truly sympathize with any hard-working teenaged kid working for minimum wage who gets nailed with a traffic ticket with a $300 price tag.

As a front line supervisor, I wholeheartedly rejected the notion that officers under my command had to hand out a daily, or even weekly number (quota) of traffic tickets. These officers swore an oath to serve and protect the citizens of our city. Their primary function should be to respond to priority calls and to detect and apprehend the criminals who prey on the public in our crime-ridden city.

If they managed to find the time to write a ticket, I applauded their efforts.

Generating revenue by persecuting commuters and the general public is a misguided approach that undermines the integrity of the entire police service.

In 2008, 25,000 traffic offence notices were issued by the WPS. In 2011, that number ballooned to 57,000.

When you assess these numbers, it becomes clear that holding career path over employees' heads is an effective way to achieve "buy in."

The lies, deception and continued abuse of Winnipeg motorists has become so overt, it's attracted the attention of investigative reporters from W5, the longest-running television newsmagazine program in North America.

The time has come to return to a more simple time in policing.

A time when a police officer stopped a car and cut the driver a break with a warning or stern lecture -- an interaction that was often educational, appreciated and respected.

A time when a seatbelt ticket cost you $40 and not a week's wages.

A time when front line cops were expected to patrol your back lanes looking for criminals.

A time when people in the "chain of command" were cops and not "bean-counting gumbys."

It would be my hope that Chief Devon Clunis pays heed to Chu's words of wisdom: Policing is not, and should never have become, a money-making proposition.

It's time to stop playing traffic ticket word games and start letting street cops do what they were always intended to do, be street cops.

 

James Jewell retired from the Winnipeg Police Service after a 25-year career. Follow his blog at jgjewell.wordpress.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2013 A10

History

Updated on Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 3:37 PM CST: changes headline

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