It’s hard to argue against a traffic ticket that involves public safety. But if you’re frustrated after getting a ticket for some minor violation, you’re not alone.
In times past, a police officer would often give you a warning and send you on your way.
These days, it seems, nobody gets a second chance. A hefty ticket is the order of the day.
It’s happening in cities across Canada, but Winnipeg appears to be the worst.
Police there issued 57,000 tickets in 2011. In 2012, city hall asked the police to increase their revenue from tickets by $1.4 million.
Critics say police officers are under pressure to issue a certain number of tickets.
“I think most officers would be happy to provide a discretionary warning,” said Mike Sutherland, head of the Winnipeg Police Association. “The difficulty comes when there are significant work place consequences imposed on officers if they fail to hand out a certain number of tickets in a prescribed period of time.”
Most of us would call that a quota, but police management and city bureaucrats are reluctant to use the “Q” word. Mike Sutherland isn’t buying it.
“It can be called by a variety of different names,” he said. “It can be called an objective, or an expectation. Those sorts of terminology are used to disguise the fact that it simply is a quota.”
With so much time devoted to handing out tickets, you might conclude that Winnipeg is a sleepy place where the crime rate is low and police have little else to do.
This city of 700,000 people has the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of Canada.
It also has the highest rate of violent crime and robbery in the country.
You would think that all overtime pay for police would be spent fighting those crimes.
But that’s not happening.
“In this city they ask them to come in and work extra days to just do traffic enforcement,” said Len Eastoe, a former police officer who now fights traffic tickets. “So we’re paying them a 10-hour overtime shift to just do traffic enforcement, when in fact our city is plagued with a lot of other serious crime.”
With so much emphasis on traffic enforcement, Sutherland worries that the people of Winnipeg are losing respect for the police.
“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 to some degree the public confidence and the relationships that we’re trying to build.”
That public sentiment is echoed across Canada in other cities.
“I think that they should be going after people who are real criminals and spending their time a little more wisely,” said one driver outside a traffic court in Toronto.
The Toronto police issued a statement to W5 saying, “The Toronto Police Service does not have a traffic ticket quota for its officers.”
Which makes you wonder what attracts officers to a quiet street in the centre of Toronto called St Pauls Square?
“There’s certainly nothing to do with protecting the citizen,” said Phil Palter, a resident of the area. “There’s no businesses on that street. You don’t have robbery. You don’t have possibility of accidents of people being run over. You don’t have speeding.”
All there is on St Pauls is a right hand turn to access the street from Bloor, one of Toronto’s busiest thoroughfares. The turn is legal during the day, restricted at night, but it’s not allowed anytime on Saturday and Sunday. And on weekends, the police are there, stopping drivers and handing out tickets.
“You can have up to five cops sitting there on a Saturday afternoon,” said Palter. “It’s so bizarre. And that’s why so many people have complained about it.”
And not just in Toronto. Drivers in other major cities complain about what they believe are quotas imposed to raise revenue for cash-strapped municipal governments. But so far it the issue hasn’t spread wide enough to come to the attention of The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
“So far it hasn’t,” said Jim Chu, Vancouver’s Chief of Police and President of the national association for 2013. “But if it was [happening] that would not be a good thing. Because you’re tying enforcement, using the powers of the state to making money and that’s not the purpose for why we’re out there. We’re out there to keep the streets safe, not to make money.”
In other words, the reason police are out there is to serve and protect, not collect.
Watch W5 Serve and Collect tonight for the full story. Check local listings.