Sam Katz’s Latest Revenue Generating Plan

As a preface, if there is evidence that shows a traffic safety issue involving child safety in or near schools exits, it should be addressed.

When proposals on issues such as speed limits in school zones are brought forward by police the motivation is usually safety.  The same cannot necessarily be said when such proposals originate with politicians.  When politicians make such proposals, safety may be used as a facade to deflect the attention from the real objective which is often increased revenue.

Such may be the case with Sam Katz’s latest foray into “child safety”.

If this was a police initiative it would no doubt be backed by  statistics about speeding in school zones, accidents in school zones, and injuries to children caused by speeding.  If police suggested  a change to the speed limits in school zones,  politicians would demand such data to back up that position.

Sam’s proposal contains none of that.  No facts, no data.  Operational decisions are based on data, political decisions are based on politics.

At this point we don’t know if speeding in school zones is a major issue that requires a change in legislation.  The data (if it exists) has not been shared. What we do know is that the proposed change in legislation requires action by the province.  What better time to bring up what is on the surface  a ‘motherhood and apple pie’  issue than during an election campaign.  What provincial politician would want to be painted as being against protecting children?  None that I know of in Manitoba.

At this point we don’t know whether safety in school zones is a bona fide issue, but what we do know is that Sam’s timing is strategically impeccable.

As well, photo radar revenue which has been static or perhaps even declining after the construction zone cash cow was milked dry over the past several years, would receive a huge, if short-term boost as drivers adjust to the new speed limits.

If the speed limit in school zones is reduced I predict a lot of “flashes” at 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM on weekends and during weekends and summer holidays as the mobile photo radar units are deployed close to  elementary schools in residential communities.   There is potential for revenue even if there are no kids around (the safety issues it is supposedly designed to address).

Even if there are no kids around the schools during the early morning or late evening hours on weekends or during the holidays, the photo radar cameras don’t know that (although presumably the operators do).  The city’s ‘money printing machines’ ( photo radar units) will be on overtime if this proposed change becomes reality – and all in the name of protecting children.

I think we are about to be “Sammed” again.

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Photo Radar Dumped by the State of Arizona

In mid-July of this year the use of photo radar on Arizona State freeways was abandoned.  Governor Jan Brewer made the decision not to renew the contract with Reflex, an Australian company.

Since photo radar was introduced on Arizona freeways in 2008 it has faced intense opposition.  The opposition centered on privacy issues and the feeling that photo radar was not a safety initiative but rather a revenue source for the State.

When photo radar was introduced in Arizona the plan was to use 100 cameras and the projected revenue was in the area of $165 million.  Ultimately 36 fixed and 42 mobile cameras were put into operation.  Since 2008 a total of 1.2 million tickets have been  issued.  The tickets issued represented revenue of over $200 million – had they all been paid, that is.

The problem is that only 432,367 of the 1.2 million tickets issued were ever paid (about a third).  The state collected only 78 million dollars in revenue – far short of the projected 120 to 165 million.

Why were the tickets not paid?  Because the majority of Arizona residents chose to simply ignore them.

In democratic societies laws are passed by elected officials.  Laws that do not have public support are unenforceable.  The state relies on voluntary adherence to the law, it simply does not have the resources to enforce laws that the majority of the public does not support.

In the case of Arizona this created a conundrum.  Normally when a citizen is charged with an offence and fails to attend court to deal with the matter, a warrant to apprehend is issued.  If the State had continued with photo enforcement, it would have been in a position where they would have had to issue warrants for the arrest for approximately 800,000 of its citizens.  This would have been unpalatable politically, and in a practical sense, no state has the police and court resources to deal with such an influx of cases.

Groups lobbying against the use of photo radar were not successful in getting the issue placed on the ballot for fall elections.  They are, however, not giving up their fight.  Although the State of Arizona no longer uses photo radar local jurisdictions such as Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix still do.  Organizers vow to put the photo radar question on the ballot in those cities.  Their plan is to get rid of photo radar, one city at a time.

In Winnipeg in 2008 the Winnipeg Police Service issued a total of 192,202 traffic tickets.  Of those, 167,569 were issued as a result of images captured by photo radar.  The biggest increase in 2008 was tickets issued by mobile photo radar units which rose to 118,692 – an increase of 59% over 2007.

The 2009 figures will be contained in the 2009 Winnipeg Police Annual Report which is usually issued midyear.  As of this date, the report has not yet been released.

Hopefully it will be available prior to the upcoming civic election.

Radar Units With LED Displays

For the past several years Winnipeg’s photo radar program has received some bad publicity.  In the eyes of many it has morphed from a road safety program to a revenue generating program.  Some of you have actually started calling it a cash grab.  Others, including a Provincial Court Judge, have questioned whether the Police Service and the City in their zeal to raise photo radar revenue  complied with the law.

The Mayor has decided to take steps to address this issue.

In order to dispel the ‘cash grab’ image, the mayor has decided to ‘invest’ our tax dollars and has spent $100,000.00 to purchase a number of radar units with LED displays.  These units will tell motorists exactly what their speedometers currently do but using much larger numbers and in colour!  Winnipeggers are no doubt excited about this new initiative, just another example of the efficient and effective use of  their tax dollars.

Because the mayor is now also spending money on photo radar and not just generating revenue he wants us all to be reassured that photo radar is really all about safety, and not about the money.  The Chief of Police has described the project as a ‘worthwhile investment’ –  probably because the mayor told him it was.  And although the Chief of Police did not come up with this idea himself, he does support it and as with other initiatives proposed by the Mayor (such as the helicopter and CCTV),  the  Chief has clearly demonstrated a keen sense of  political savvy by falling in line with the mayor’s thinking.

Some members of the public view this  ‘investment’ as a red herring to distract attention away from the ‘money grab’.

And for those of you that, in your cynicism, thought this might be an election ploy – forget it.  The mayor actually thought about this idea last year and the timing of the implementation is strictly a co-incidence.

Much like former President Richard Nixon used to proclaim, “I am not a crook”, Winnipeg’s mayor has repeatedly proclaimed “I am not a politician”.   How could any of his actions, therefore, possibly be viewed as politically motivated if he is not a politician?

(Authors note:  Actually, it turned out that despite Richard Nixon’s repeated proclamations to the contrary, history showed that he was indeed a crook.)

Photo Radar in Winnipeg

This is the first in a series of articles that will examine the emergence of photo radar as a traffic enforcement tool, its implementation in Winnipeg and the future prospects for photo radar.    

 

Introduction: Why Photo Radar?

During the past two decades many police agencies including the Winnipeg Police Service saw an increase in the demand for police services.  In some cities the crime rate increased, while in others the crime rate was relatively stable but the complexity of the issues being dealt with required the assignment of additional resources.  Issues such as illicit drug laboratories, computer based crime, residential grow operations, auto theft and the increased sophistication of organized gangs all contributed to the complexity of policing.  These issues and others led to the creation of additional specialized units in many major Canadian cities.  These specializing units drew resources away from traditional areas of policing such as traffic enforcement and mobile uniform and beat patrol.     

As resources were being siphoned away from traffic units, traffic enforcement lost its lustre in terms of a career option for young officers.  Traffic units stopped attracting the brightest and the best young officers in the same volume as in the past.  Upwardly mobile officers with career aspirations instead opted to go to other specialty units that offered greater rewards, both short-term in terms of the type of work and the possibility to earn overtime, and long-term, in terms of promotability.  

In some cities this combination of factors resulted in traffic units operating with high vacancy rates.  Efficient traffic units promote road safety and perform a vital enforcement function.  A by-product of enforcement is ongoing revenue for the city from traffic fines.  As the number of officers assigned to traffic units shrunk and the enforcement capabilities diminished, some police agencies embraced photo radar technology as a means of filling the void.   Photo radar presented itself as a technological alternative to traditional enforcement of traffic laws (speeding and running red lights) that required minimal police resources in terms of personnel.  

In order for a new approach to be successful, the initiative requires the support of the public. Most jurisdictions that introduced photo radar did so in a staged and deliberate manner designed to garner public support for the road safety aspect of the program.   Among police there was a genuine belief that photo radar would reduce infractions, especially speeding and red-light running, and result in safer streets.  Most jurisdictions very carefully crafted their photo radar messages around the safety theme and were able, on the merits of the case presented, to convince the public that photo radar was desirable. This was especially necessary in Manitoba.  Photo radar required the enactment of the enabling legislation by the province.  This was a highly charged political issue.  After the experience in Ontario no provincial government was about to bring in photo radar legislation without significant public support for the concept.  

Although police genuinely saw increased traffic enforcement using photo radar technology as a safety issue, it soon became apparent that many politicians saw it primarily as a huge, untapped source of potential revenue.  In some cities this caused significant strains between police agencies and their civilian oversight bodies.  The foundation for a potential break down of public support for the program was laid when photo radar morphed from a safety issue to a political issue.  Projecting revenue expectations from photo radar as part of the budget process put significant pressure on the police to achieve revenue targets, not road safety targets.  By necessity police attention was diverted from the safety aspects of the program to the revenue aspects.  Decisions that should have been evidence based and related to safety became tactical and revenue based.     

The evolution of photo radar in Winnipeg is a classic example of what happens when politics and revenue generation overshadow the safety aspects of a program.  

Road safety issues are addressed in a long-term context.  Take, as an example, the impaired driving initiative.  It took many years of dedicated effort to change the public mindset about impaired driving.  This was accomplished through a combination of education, changes in the law and selective enforcement.  It took a generation for the attitude to take hold.  

Politics on the other hand, especially at the municipal level, involves a short-term mindset – often the length of the current term.  This contributes to a ‘ride that horse until it drops/ milk this cow until it’s dry’ mentality.   When photo radar becomes ‘all about the money’ the safety aspect of the program is eroded and public support diminishes.  

Winnipeg may need to redefine its vision for photo radar, clarify its mandate and rebuild the  almost universal public trust the program once enjoyed.      

Subsequent posts will examine: 

  • Photo radar technology;
  • Introducing photo radar to Winnipeg, the process;
  • The move from a road safety program to a revenue source;
  • Photo radar in Winnipeg – the future.