Members of the high profile police ACTION Team have been under pressure to meet their chief’s quota for issuing tickets, says Mike Thomas, outgoing president of the Hamilton Police Association.
Team members are under investigation by divisional detectives for allegedly issuing fake tickets, possibly in an effort to boost the unit’s ticket stats.
The quota issue is one that affects all of Hamilton’s front line officers, who believe they must meet Chief Glenn De Caire’s expectations around tickets, says Thomas.
Many officers are concerned their careers will suffer if they don’t meet those expectations. “Officers right across the service are under an immense amount of pressure to issue tickets,” Thomas says.
“Their performance is rated on the number of tickets they issue. But an officer’s performance has to be rated on a number of themes and not solely on the tickets given out,” Thomas said.
Police sources tell The Spectator there is a widespread belief within the service that every front line officer is expected to issue one ticket per shift. They could be under the Highway Traffic Act, or for things such as loitering and littering.
In response to an interview request, De Caire issued the following statement: “Our expectation is that officers participate in traffic enforcement to reduce collisions, impaired driving and increase overall road safety for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists and in other non-traffic enforcement for the improvement of citizen and community safety.”
In the past, De Caire has said skyrocketing ticket numbers simply reflect the hard work of his officers.
The ACTION Team probe began after provincial offence notice books — with the tickets still intact — were found in a box destined for the shredder in late September.
It appears tickets were filled out, logged with the court and included in police statistics but never actually given to the people named on them. It also appears those named are men and women who are transient and have mental health issues.
Four ACTION members have been reassigned to desk duty.
If all front line officers feel pressure to issue tickets, it is fathomable ACTION feels the most pressure.
The team was created by De Caire and is his pride and joy. He started a similar team in Toronto and when hired as Hamilton’s chief, immediately began to seek provincial funding for a team here.
The 28-member team issues about 5,000 tickets annually. The proposed budget for ACTION next year is $5.1 million — nearly twice that of the homicide unit.
ACTION is extremely high profile — in fact, visibility and profile are part of its purpose, with officers in bright yellow jackets patrolling the core on foot and bicycle.
De Caire often says the team is not only about increasing safety downtown but also increasing the “perception” of safety.
ACTION also has a high profile on social media, with some of its members being the first “Twitter cops” in Hamilton and gaining thousands of followers.
Recently, ACTION won a prestigious international policing award.
Being a member is a coveted assignment, although not without controversy. Some cops, city councillors and the association feel money spent on that unit — which does not respond to regular calls the way other officers do — would be better used for more front line patrol.
While public perception has long been that police have ticket quotas, Thomas debunks that myth. He’s retiring after 35 years with Hamilton police and cannot recall pressure from any other chief for officers to issue a specified number of tickets.
“Tickets are supposed to be issued at an officer’s discretion,” he says.
When on patrol early in his career, Thomas considered many factors while deciding whether to issue a ticket. Did the person simply make a mistake? Were they courteous? Did they apologize? Did they say they would not do it again?
If so, Thomas may have let them go with a warning, believing he had improved public safety and the police service’s relationship with the community.
“I liked that interaction better than just hammering them.”
Tickets are an easily measured performance evaluator and one the chief can show to the Police Services Board and the public, says Thomas. The chief can put the number of tickets issued by the ACTION Team in a presentation to illustrate the work they do.
Yet, ticket numbers are just one of many ways to measure an officer’s job performance. For instance, an officer responding to a domestic violence call can easily spend their entire shift dealing with that situation and never write a ticket.
There is no written policy mandating a quota, says Thomas, but the expectations are cited frequently by association members.