Police memo clears up doubt on traffic-ticket quotas

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If you ever wondered whether police really have traffic-ticket quotas to meet, wonder no more.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/08/2009 (4802 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you ever wondered whether police really have traffic-ticket quotas to meet, wonder no more.

Internal police memos, obtained this week by CTV News, show that Winnipeg police officers have been told they’re expected to hand out a minimum of one traffic offence notice per cruiser per shift. Even tactical units are expected to do their part.

I’d call that a quota.

But Police Chief Keith McCaskill seems to be spinning this as a public safety and human resources issue, as much as what it really is: a revenue shortfall crisis.

So our chief has decided to take a cash cow by the udders.

An undermilked cash cow, I might add.

As for the bull, it’s flying.

What I and others call traffic-ticket quotas McCaskill calls a way of measuring his officers’ “performance.”

Oh yes, he also calls it a reminder.

A reminder that part of their job is to ticket speeders and drivers who roll through stop signs.

That sort of routine police work.

Because apparently it hasn’t been so routine this year.

According to the internal memos, this year police have issued 74 per cent fewer Highway Traffic Act notices compared to the same period last year, which means revenue the city expected to have tucked away by now is down by about the same percentage.

That budget boo-boo sounds as if it might have been a reminder — and a rude one at that — for Winnipeg’s police chief.

In another memo an inspector reportedly states that money generated from traffic tickets is counted on as a source of cash by the city.

Obviously some of the rank and file are upset about the quota, reminder, way of measuring performance, whatever. Otherwise the internal documents wouldn’t have ended up in a news reporter’s hands.

Ironically, that suggests that some cops generally agree with what they hear so often from angry drivers they stop for traffic violations: that they have better things to do than nab speeders and grab their cash. Especially at a time when the police are also facing a frightening street-gang problem.

You can understand the city’s perspective, though.

As that police memo suggested, the city counts on the money generated by traffic tickets when it does budget projections and when ticket revenue is down by nearly three quarters, well, you know what’s going to happen.
Exactly what’s happening.

A traffic-ticket-writing blitz and a public-relations blunder.

But, quotas aside, it only makes sense for police to issue tickets, the money from which pays part of their salaries.
Policing is expensive.

And, after all, issuing traffic tickets is part of a police officer’s responsibility.

But the problem with McCaskill’s reminder on issuing traffic tickets — at least in part — is the timing and, hence, the optics.

Winnipeg is a city with serious street-gang problem — where an innocent woman can be shot and killed at a weekend wedding — and now police are being told to crack down on driving offences.

Ouch!

Except, as I’ve written before, most of us are more likely to be seriously injured and killed in a traffic accident than by being shot or even knifed.

Which brings me to my own reminder for Chief McCaskill.

A couple of years ago I ran into the chief at City Hall. So I took the opportunity to tell him that police should start cracking down on drivers who routinely roll and even drive right through stop signs. Not enforcing the stop-sign law is not only dangerous, it can lead to disrespect for and disobedience of other traffic rules.

The chief smiled at me.

And said zip.

Now that the city is short of cash, Winnipeg’s police chief has lots to say, though. He’s all for traffic enforcement and traffic safety, and maybe even stopping the serial disregard of stop signs in this city.

Well, I’m with you chief.

And I’m glad you’re finally with me.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

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