A special traffic-enforcement project ordered by the city a year ago -- originally conceived to get police officers to collect an extra $1 million in traffic fines -- cost almost $860,000 in overtime, documents reveal.
Dozens of officers, called in from other units, logged 627 overtime shifts between June and November to help the central traffic unit issue the extra number of tickets.
The documents, obtained by traffic activist Todd Dube of WiseUp Winnipeg through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request, show the total regular overtime cost for Project Drive from June to November last year was $859,522,56. The months in which OT costs were the highest were October, September, August and July, when the average monthly overtime bill was $160,526.
Those four months also saw the most overtime shifts, with an average of 116 overtime shifts worked by non-central traffic-unit officers, meaning they had to be pulled in from other units when off-duty. Overtime pay for an officer is time-and-a-half for a 10-hour shift.
Dube said he doesn't see any benefit from Project Drive. "Pretty much everything they earned went to overtime," he said. "It's a direct transfer to the police department. There's no net gain."
A Winnipeg Police Service spokesman said Wednesday he couldn't comment at length about the enforcement project.
"We had a target in mind and we got to that target," traffic unit Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel said. "They wanted the extra enforcement and they paid for it, so that's what we did."
The police union said city officials abused police overtime by forcing officers to become tax collectors.
Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said city officials are reluctant to authorize police overtime to prevent and solve crime -- but are not reluctant when they want officers to hand out traffic fines.
"Policing is about safety, not bolstering the civic budget so some politician can use it as a platform so they can claim they are fiscally minded," Sutherland said.
"That's cheap political points scored off the backs of front-line officers. I take great exception, as do my members, about policing being a revenue-generating exercise."
Protection and community services committee chairman Scott Fielding said he couldn't comment because he didn't have enough information.
The numbers do not reflect future overtime costs, because the officers may have to go to traffic court to defend the tickets they issued, Dube said.
In November, the city's finance committee approved a request from police for almost $1.3 million in overtime over-expenditures.
At that time, police Chief Devon Clunis said traffic court was one of the main reasons for the higher overtime costs because more motorists fight their tickets, most notably drivers ticketed by a controversial mobile photo-radar unit near Grant Avenue and Nathaniel Street.
More troublesome, Dube said, is that Project Drive saw front-line police officers relegated to ticket duty.
"To pull them away from solving robberies and gang crimes and put them on traffic, that's the story," Dube said.
"Everybody I talk to, it bothers them that there are no quotas on solving robberies or gang crimes, but there is in traffic," he added.
He also said it's disingenuous to suggest the extra officers targeted flagrant traffic crimes such as speeding or red-light running.
Rather, Dube said, the extra officers were most likely assigned to enforce one of Winnipeg's more-profitable traffic traps, such as ticketing drivers southbound on McPhillips Street who fail to turn right on Inkster Boulevard or drivers who turn right at Colony Street from Portage Avenue. The fine is $203.80.
He said most of the violations at these and other locations are inadvertent.
"Since when has that been what traffic enforcement is about?" Dube said.
"We see them in these locations that are just unfair to people."
Last March, former police chief Keith McCaskill told council's protection and community services committee it wasn't possible for police to fulfil the city's request to generate $1 million in extra ticket revenue through regular traffic enforcement.
McCaskill said the service could only commit to $400,000 in additional net ticket revenue to prevent overtime costs from ballooning.
To make that target, police planned to collect an extra $1.4 million in ticket revenue by using officers from other units to augment traffic enforcement. The service was to spend an extra $1 million on overtime for a net increase of $400,000 worth of tickets. Essentially, overtime costs would be paid through revenue from fines and not out of the police budget.
Traffic-enforcement overtime shifts worked in 2012 by non-central traffic-unit officers:
June -- 84
July -- 108
August -- 121
September -- 115
October -- 130
November -- 69
Total regular overtime costs for Project Drive from June to November 2012:
June -- $139,473.15
July -- $157,565.80
August -- $158,065.50
September -- $158,744.06
October -- $167,572.74
November -- $78,101.31
-- Source: Winnipeg Police Service data released under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act