Traffic Tag Quotas

By definition a quota refers to a portion or share that an individual, unit or division within an organization is required to contribute to the whole.  Quotas can be used to express both minimums and maximums. 

In terms of officers handing out traffic tickets, quotas refer to minimums, i.e. the minimum number of tickets that each officer is required to issue. 

One might ask why is it necessary for police agencies to impose quotas regarding traffic tickets.  Can we not expect officers to do their job which includes handing out traffic tickets? The issue is complex.  Some police officers see traffic enforcement as beneath them – they want to concentrate their time and effort on enforcing criminal law, not traffic offences and by-laws.    Some officers actually take the position that they ‘don’t do traffic’.  Police unions have traditionally opposed quotas on the grounds that it limits officer discretion.

The increase in fines has also contributed to the reluctance of some officers to issue tickets. They find it difficult to hand the average ‘working Joe’ a ticket, knowing the fine will be in the hundreds of dollars. 

Another factor that influences officers is their recognition that the issuing of traffic notices is as much about revenue as it is about road safety.   Many police officers resent being revenue generators. 

The recent attempt by the Winnipeg Police Service to impose traffic quotas was cloaked under the guise of overall officer performance, attempting to ensure that officers perform all aspects of their job.  The monitoring of officer performance in and of itself is a good strategy.  However, such a strategy will only succeed if the monitoring of traffic enforcement statistics is part of an overall performance monitoring strategy.  If traffic enforcement is the only statistic being measured while other aspects of their performance such as the numbers of arrests made are not, officers soon realize that it’s not about performance, it’s about revenue. 

As with many approaches timing is everything.  The Service’s recent foray into the traffic ticket quota minefield at a time when photo radar and traditional enforcement revenues are down and the Service is facing a budget shortfall might suggest that the need for additional revenue has trumped performance and road safety.    

Some police agencies that are serious about tracking performance have put in place statistical programs as part of their overall CAD and RMS system that automatically track and provide reports on officer’s performance at the individual, unit and divisional level.  Such programs incorporate traffic enforcement as part of what is being measured and make such measurement more palatable.  The reports generated by such systems serve as an important tool to evaluate and improve individual and collective performance.   

The recent push by the Winnipeg Police Service for more traffic tags is simply a knee jerk attempt to balance the budget.  The police executive needs to monitor spending more closely throughout the year so that this scenario can be avoided for 2010. 

The quota tactic may result in short term revenue increase but will it modify officer performance in the long term?  Will the Service demand ongoing compliance with ticket quotas in 2010 or will the introduction of a new budget make officer ‘performance’ in this area less crucial?