The Traffic Ticket Quota Issue

A sense of déjà vu.

Back in 2010 I wrote a poston this issue.  I will reference two paragraphs from that post and remember, this was written back in 2010:

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.    

It is now two years later and the Winnipeg Police Service is doing an encore performance.  Again they are facing a budget shortfall and are looking to the revenue side to address the issue and the revenue side means more tickets.

In the words of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

His Lips Were Moving

Recently, in an attempt to not raise property taxes the Sam asked all city departments to look at their budgets and come up with cuts.

According to news reports the Winnipeg Police Service was asked to come up with somewhere between $3 Million and $5 million.

There were, no doubt, provisos attached to the budget cutting instructions: you can’t cut the number of police officers;  you cannot cut the number of staff (which is already far below the acceptable ratio); you cannot cut the number of cadets; and above all you cannot ground the helicopter.

Once you look at the list of things that would not be politically palatable there are not many areas left (other than perhaps overtime) that could be cut that would yield savings in the $3-$5 million range.

The other option of course is to increase revenue.  Police departments don’t have many options in terms of sources that can dramatically increase revenues except fines.  Traffic fines to be precise.

According to a CTV report,  when Mayor Sam Katz was asked about a recent Winnipeg Police internal memo concerning the need to increase traffic enforcement the mayor indicated that the city is not behind the move by the Police Service to increase the number of offence notices issued (and the resulting increase in the revenue accrued to the City).

Apparently the mayor actually said, “To be frank with you, I’m not aware of that at all”.

Although I was not there and did not see or hear him say those words I’m willing to believe he said them and probably even with a straight face, but,  his lips were moving….. 

If a police department is given instructions to cut the budget but cannot touch the areas most likely to yield savings then the revenue side is the only option and traffic tickets are the prime revenue source.

“..not aware of that at all”,  Mr. Mayor?  What did you think would happen – the police would call on the friendly neighbourhood tooth fairy to deliver the goods?

School Zone Speed Limits – Part II

The motivation for conducting the poll on school zone speed limits was two-fold.  First,  I was curious as to how many people were of the opinion that  the current speed limit provisions were appropriate and how many felt they should be lowered.  Secondly, I was curious as to how many people would like to see some form of evidence that a change was needed as opposed to simply relying on the opinion of politicians or the police.

The results were as follows:  35% of  respondents had their minds made up and supported the proposed change without the need for any further evidence to support such a move.  On the other end of the spectrum 13% were prepared to leave the limits as they are.  The remaining 52% would like to see data as to the difference in accident rates between Winnipeg and other cities that have a 30KPH limits (30%) or they would like to see evidence that we currently have a problem with speeding and accidents involving children  in school zones (22%).  N=60.

That means that a full 65% of respondents don’t agree with the Chief of Police that it’s a ‘no brainer‘.

Now let me throw a couple of wrinkles into the debate.

The current speed limit in school zones is based on the posted limit on the street where the school is located.  Some schools are located on residential streets where the speed limit is 50KPH.  Others including both middle grade and high schools are located on major thoroughfares such as Portage Avenue, St. Marys Road, Main Street and Pembina Highway where the speed limit is 60 KPH.   Would it be appropriate to reduce speeds by half from 60 to 30 KPH in these streets?

The second wrinkle is the effect of already existing legislation.  Although there are speed limits, Section 95 (3) of the Highway Traffic specifically addresses situations where children are either on or near a roadway.  It says:

Reasonable and prudent speed

95(3)       No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent or in a manner that is not reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing; and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed otherwise permitted under this Act where

(a) the presence of a child on or near the highway, whether or not he is in close proximity to the grounds of a school building or a playground, dictates, in the interest of safety, a slower speed or the temporary stopping of a vehicle; or

(b) any factor exists in the face of which failure to reduce that speed, or to stop the vehicle temporarily, constitutes a danger to any person or property visible to the driver.

(source: Manitoba Highway Traffic Act)

What this means is that police already have the authority to ticket drivers in school zones who are driving faster than the existing condition would make it prudent even if they are complying with the posted speed limit.

If speeding in school zones and safety are such a burning issue that the mayor is demanding the province make the amendments to the Highway Traffic Act  right now, then why are  police not enforcing the existing provision of the Highway Traffic Act in the interim?

Could it be that it’s about revenue under the guise of safety?

If the Mayor and the Chief of Police can convince the province to lower the speed limit they can then deploy their mobile revenue generating units (photo radar) and make a killing, at least in the short-term until drivers become accustomed to the new limits, especially in areas where the reduction would be 100% , from 60 to 30 KPH.

Funny that this whole issue should come to the fore when the city is looking at ways to cut budgets (or raise revenues).  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

Call me old-fashioned but I side with the province on this one in terms of ‘studying’ the issue before making the decision.

If the data supports the need for such a change I’m certain most Winnipegers would support it.

By the way, where is the data on this issue?  Two possibilities are likely.  The mayor and the chief of police have not asked for it, or they have asked for it but it does not support their position.  Despite the fact that in its strategic plan the Police Service purports to be committed to intelligence led and evidence based policing, there is no evidence such an approach is being implemented in this case.   As one of my colleagues used to say, ‘why confuse the issue with facts’.

The Effect of Unauthorized Speed Limit Signs

In response to a sign posted by Wise Up Winnipeg,  Mayor Sam Katz said:

“I think everybody should know better than just go and start doing things on their own erecting signs that are not only against the Highway Traffic Act and violate it but more importantly could have ramifications when it comes to safety”.  

On the other hand…..




12 01 14   Wording changed from ‘photo radar’ to ‘radar’


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.

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.

Traffic Tickets: A New Bargaining Chip for Police Unions

Police departments have become addicted to traffic ticket revenue much in the same way that other levels of government are addicted to revenue from gambling and lotteries.

From a policing and road safety perspective, ticket revenue was never intended to become a major revenue stream.  Ticket revenue was a by-product of traffic enforcement.  In its purest form traffic enforcement is conducted as an evidence based activity targeting either particular offences or particular locations that, based on the evidence, can be shown to detract from road safety.

Police departments have the ability to gather the required intelligence to be able to set enforcement strategies based on objective criteria that link enforcement to road safety and not revenue.  However, no matter how desirable an increased level of road safety may be, it does not translate well into dollars to fill gaps in police budgets.  The result is that many police departments continue to utilize enforcement strategies that maximize the number of tickets issued and the fine revenue generated – and not road safety.

Police Unions are quickly picking up on this trend and traffic enforcement, or rather the lack thereof, is becoming a powerful bargaining chip for police unions.  Existing legislation on issues such as arrest and the issuing of traffic tickets is worded in such a way that officers “may arrest” or “may” issue a ticket.  It does not say they shall or must.  Officers have discretion and may use other approaches to deal with traffic violators.  Legally they are allowed to issue warnings as opposed to issuing tickets.

It seems that some officers in Dekalb County, Georgia are doing just that.  In June and July of 2009 the number of traffic citations issued by officers dropped from 23,797 to 19,029 and from 22,716 to 15,783, respectively, compared to 2010.  That is a 20% drop in June and a 30% drop in July.

The DeKalb County Police Department recently imposed an unpaid holiday policy that is not going over well with officers.  The union representing the officer denies that officers are on a ‘ticket furlough’ but do admit that there has been a decrease in morale. The Chief blames the reduction in tickets on other factors such as manpower, call volumes and officers’ use of discretion.  The reduction in tickets issued in June and July of 2010 represents 1.75 million dollars in lost revenue.  In 2010 DeKalb County projected 25.9 million dollars in ticket revenue.

Meanwhile in Spain, Guardia Civil (highway patrol officers) are protesting the introduction of a productivity bonus system that relates pay to performance.  In Spain fine revenues from tickets issued by Guardia Civil  in June of 2010 dropped 50% compared to June of 2009 despite increased patrols.  Guardia Civil does not have the right to strike but an unnamed union official said that highway patrols have every right to be ‘gentle’ with drivers.

The size of the bargaining chip or ‘hammer’ being handed to police unions is determined by the degree to which the organization is dependent on traffic ticket revenue.  A city or police department that plugs  large numbers (in the millions) into its budget from anticipated traffic fines can experience a hard fall if those numbers drop off, for whatever reason.

Jurisdictions that use photo radar technology for the bulk of their traffic fine generation may be somewhat immune to this phenomenon.   Machines (photo radar), once installed, cannot take furloughs, go on strike or use discretion.  They just churn out tickets and revenue 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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.