For many, it’s a ticket quota, plain and simple, the so-called urban myth that a leaked document obtained by yorkregion.com indicates is no myth at all.
The argument goes that a quota encourages officers to ticket people regardless of whether motorists’ behaviour is actually endangering the public or could be corrected with a warning.
York Regional Police, the publisher of the letter, argue the numbers are “guidelines and performance indicators” used by managers to ensure officers are doing their jobs.
Like it or not, traffic enforcement is the will of the people, police brass say, arguing that traffic complaints have consistently been the top, or at least among the top three, concerns of York Region residents for the past quarter century.
The 2014 document in question is headlined #1 District Uniform Patrol Performance Measures and lays out exactly what is expected from officers patrolling Newmarket, Aurora and East Gwillimbury.
Passed out to York police platoon commanders and supervisors in that area, the measures dictate that each of the four platoons, containing about 30 officers each, is to hand out at least 260 provincial traffic tickets, aka “POTs”, per month and 3,120 per year.
For each individual member, one ticket is requested per shift, with an average of 12 per month and 144 per year.
Traffic enforcement makes our roads safer by focusing on speeding, seatbelts, distracted driving, aggressive driving and impaired driving and high collision intersections, the document states.
The one-sheet guideline does not just focus on traffic tickets, it also includes expectations for a raft of other measures, including RIDE checks, foot patrols and arrests.
The number of tickets doled out in Newmarket has been steadily falling.
In 2010, the number of POTs handed out in town was 10,858, which would eventually fall by almost half to 6,175 in 2013, before rising back to 8,238 tickets in 2014.
However it’s also important to note numbers were on the rise in the region as a whole last year.
Between 2013 and 2014 the number of tickets handed out for those running red lights rose 13 per cent in the region, the number for those running stop signs rose 31 per cent and the number of tickets handed out for seatbelt infractions rose 24 per cent.
York police deputy chief Thomas Carrique says that the word quota may be a convenient way for many to label the ticketing process, but he insists, it’s simply wrong.
“Quotas is a term we’ve heard for as long as policing has been around,” he said. “In reality, a quota is a fixed number with consequences should that number not be met and rewards for numbers that are met — we do not have quotas; we do have performance expectations.”
He said that if the numbers are not met, it’s a “starting point for which a supervisor is expected to have a conversation” about how officers are spending their time on the road.
If the problem persists, he said, officers can be placed on a “performance improvement plan.”
“I don’t see it as any different than any other profession,” he added, noting that if a journalist doesn’t write any stories, an editor will have a chat with him regarding output.
As far as whether or not the expectations remove an officer’s discretion, he said if someone deems it appropriate to proceed using discretion, it’s their decision, however that may also initiate a conversation with a supervisor to make sure it’s being used appropriately.
“If they are using discretion to educate motorists, that would be a justifiable explanation, but sometimes a warning is not enough to justify the behaviour,” he said, adding he seen a number of drivers who had previously been warned by police perish in car crashes.
Not surprisingly, not everyone is convinced by this way of thinking.
Todd Sepkowski, president of the York Regional Police Association, said the logic used by police supervisors is wrong-headed, insisting that any time hard numbers are used in traffic enforcement, there will be repercussions felt far beyond officers on the ground.
“We’re here to deter bad driving habits and crime and that should solely be left up to the officer investigating it. That’s what we’re trained for,” he said. “If you put hard numbers on it, there will be tickets handed out when a warning might have sufficed.”
He also said he takes issue with the deputy chief’s claim that officers don’t face repercussions if they don’t hit the numbers, noting that putting someone on a performance improvement plan is a repercussion.
“In every occupation, there are people with strengths and weaknesses,” he added. “In policing, there are some who excel at criminal investigating and others at traffic, why should we be stopping someone from doing what they’re good at so that ticket expectations are met? There has to be a balance and that’s what staff sergeants and sergeants are there for, to make sure officers do a good job.”
Sepkowski further noted that he worries targets will prompt officers to spend their week working on their tasks and then heading to areas known for easy ticketing to fill their quotas. In traffic work, it has always been about quality not quantity, he said.
“Does the mere issue of amount of tickets indicate the quality of driving,” he questioned. “I would say no.”
John Sewell, police watchdog and former mayor of Toronto, agreed with Sepkowski, saying the behaviour is, simply put, bad management.
“This kind of stuff has been entirely discredited,” he said. “The minute you establish a quota, you get away from what policing is all about.”
Sewell says that quotas take away officer’s discretion, something that is fundamentally important to the service police provide to the public.
“What discretion means is that the officer is taking action not as a result of an order from above, but what he thinks at that particular time,” he added. “Because really good policing is not about laying charges, but it’s about helping people ensure they are obeying laws reasonably and not putting others dangers. We all know this from being children, it’s all about the warning: ‘If you do that again you’re going to be in trouble’.”
Furthermore, he said, laying charges is very expensive and can have significant ramifications for individuals.
“What we need to be doing is strengthening police discretion,” he said. That’s why people like the idea of the cop on the beat, because they know people and, therefore, can act appropriately in situations. Quotas are for bad managers who don’t know how to manage.”
One senior police officer, who did not want to be named, agreed with the deputy chief, saying the word quota brings with it all sorts of negative connotations and should not be used to describe this document.
“How are we supposed to measure someone,” he questioned. “The word quota just stigmatizes it and automatically makes everyone think we are trying to screw the public, but, in reality, that’s what residents are consistently telling the chief they want — they want people to slow down. They are trying to evaluate people, nothing else. If you look at the numbers, it’s one per shift. At the end of the day the higher ups are not asking for much.”
A number of other officers chose not to comment.
This is not the first time the issue of ticketing has come up in the region.
In May 2013, yorkregion.com wrote about another document sent around to traffic units asking officers to stop dropping down tickets so that motorists face a smaller fine or fewer demerit points. There was a trend of officers reducing tickets to 10 over the speed limit and this was viewed as not changing driving behaviour, Const. Andy Pattenden said at the time.
“This is about getting officers to consider that if someone is doing 40 over, they should get 40 over and not drop it down,” he added.
The 2014 document in question makes a similar request to avoid officers, for example, giving motorists a 15 km/h over the posted limit ticket instead of a 16 km/h over ticket to avoid the three demerits that come with that.