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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Election Promises Part II – Foot Patrols

Foot Patrol in the 1970’s and early 1980’s

Up until the early 1980’s the Winnipeg Police Service had 18 or so areas of the city that were designated as ‘beats’. These beats consisted primarily of major streets in the commercial areas of the city.  Beat officers were assigned to patrol these beats, on foot.

Beats 1 and 2, as an example, covered Main Street from James Avenue to Higgins Avenue.  Beats 3 and 4 covered Main Street from Market Avenue to Mayfair Avenue and beats 5 and 6 covered Portage Avenue from Main Street to Sherbrook Street.  Other designated beats included north Main Street from Sutherland Avenue to Inkster Boulevard, Selkirk Avenue, Logan Avenue, Ellice Avenue, Sargent Avenue and portions of Corydon Avenue.

Beats were described in a ‘beat book’ which laid out the geographical area of the beats and included comments in terms of specific duties that officers assigned to that beat were required to perform as well as ‘special attentions’ (an early version of a ‘hotspot’).  Beat 4, as an example, required the assigned officer to perform traffic duty at the intersection of Mayfair Avenue and Main Street between 4:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon to facilitate the smooth egress of traffic from the downtown area.

The highest priority beats were beats 1 and 2 – the Main Street  ‘drag’ as it was referred to.

Beat patrol was primarily a duty assigned to raw rookies or more senior constables who were being punished for some real or imagined transgression.  I recall one officer, who was senior to me, walking the beat without a gun.  The problem was that he could not pass the required spelling test.  He was, however, an excellent shot with a hand gun and had earned ‘crossed revolvers’ during training.  So he walked the beat with the little applicate of crossed revolvers stitched to the sleeve of his tunic, but no gun.  He could not be assigned to a patrol unit because policy dictated that officers assigned to a car had to carry a gun.  When we patrolled the beat together the standing joke was that if we got involved in a serious situation that required gun play, I would toss him my gun, he would do the shooting  and I would write the required reports.  Although not as good a shot, I was issued with a gun because I could spell.

Another very senior constable, close to retirement, normally walked the beat in the Fort Rouge area.  He quite frequently missed his hourly calls and at times after being ‘missing’ for most of his shift, other beat officers were assigned to go search for him.  He was usually located at one of his favorite haunts on Corydon Avenue, generally two or three ‘sheets to the wind’.

Beat duty was fairly basic: Walk the assigned beat.  During day light hours.  Be visible.  Respond to any citizen enquiries on your designated beat.  Do occasional traffic duty during rush hour periods and hand out the odd parking tag and ‘mover’.

Movers were moving violations, breaches of the Highway Traffic Act such as running a red light or having faulty equipment on a vehicle such as a burned out head or tail light.  During hours of darkness, beat constables would ‘skulk’ around and do property checks. They were to be familiar with the call box locations on their beat, call in every hour, and to watch for the flashing lights mounted on top of the call boxes which indicated they were needed for a specific duty on their beat.

If a beat officer encountered a drunk individual the officer was expected to call for the paddy wagon or a patrol car to assist in transporting the drunk to the drunk tank.  Back in the seventies that actually meant a  drunk tank on the 4th floor at the Public Safety Building.

As a rule, beat officers patrolled by themselves and were not normally dispatched to calls for service. Those assigned to Beats 1 and 2, however, were assigned in pairs to walk Main Street – two officers on the east side of the street and two officers on the west side. Beats 1 and 2 were part of the notorious Main Street strip (the drag) that was home to a large number of hotels like the McLaren (which still exists), the Brunswick, the National, the Occidental, the Patricia and the Mount Royal. Officers assigned to these two beats saw a lot of action in the form of alcohol fuelled disputes, thefts, robberies and assaults.

The biggest ‘sin’ a beat officer could commit (well actually there were several), was to not call in every hour as required, to miss a flashing light, or to not be available for an ‘officer’s visit’.  An officer’s visit was a visit from the Patrol Sergeant whose job it was to roam the streets (in a car) and check on the well-being of beat officers as well as to ensure they were on their designated beats.  And lastly, and in the eyes of some Patrol Sergeants, the most important thing was that the beat officer was to never leave his or her assigned beat area.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s being assigned to beat patrol put you at the very bottom of the pecking order. Beat patrol was a rite of passage, something you needed to work your way through before you were assigned to a ‘cruiser car’.

Because beat officers lacked mobility and were considered ‘non dispatchable resources’, it does not come as a big surprise that as the volume of calls for service grew, beat officers were removed from the beat and assigned to cars. Once assigned to cars they became dispatchable resources.

The next post will look at the advent of community policing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the move to return officers to the beat.

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.

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.