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Cops with Quotas. Is there policing for profit in BC?

A common concern for anyone who got a ticket is whether the police have some sort of motivation to issue a ticket. It’s an interesting thing because most people wonder if this is the case and we think it’s partially because they feel singled out. When you’ve faced that kind of unpleasant scrutiny, you’re searching for answers. Why me?

There are various types of motivations for traffic officers aside from just getting done the day-to-day work. There is the possibility for faster career advancement. There is recognition of superiors. There is the admiration of colleagues. There are the expectations one holds for oneself. There is the sense of duty – “this is my job and I intend to do it as best as I can” type of thinking.

All of these are normal motivations for police officers. What is abnormal is circumstances where there is a target. In other words, where an officer is expected to issue a certain number of tickets. Or where some of the revenue makes its way back to the police.

Expected motivations for traffic cops

We deal with traffic officers around British Columbia and because we’re not the ones who were issued the ticket, we get along well with them. We see officers who are actual examples of the normal motivations. Some officers are really motivated to be the best police officer they can be, to provide society with the best service they can provide. Some are simply so good at their jobs that they become super-efficient, one-person traffic enforcement marvels.

Some officers are not very good at their job. We take note of them. Interestingly, even if they stay in that position for years, if they aren’t good at it from the start, there is a limit to how much they will improve. A lack of humility is common among traffic officers who aren’t very good at their job which is an interesting side issue.

Unusual motivations for traffic cops

From time to time, we learn of informal competitions. When a team of dedicated traffic officers work together and build some camaraderie, we have seen informal competitions become a factor. “Oh, you handed out 4 excessive speeding tickets? Well, I issued 6 last Friday.” Provided the officers are following the law and their training, there is nothing inherently wrong with informal competitions. Indeed, the now-retired “Darth Radar,” Grant Gottgetreu had the lifetime record for issuing excessive speeding tickets, it became a point of pride and he was widely recognized as an exemplary officer.

Focus on Merritt

So many tickets were being issued by the Merritt RCMP at one point that there was talk that the money somehow filtered back either to the City of Merritt or to the RCMP. This was in the early 2000s. We investigated this a little because so many people asked us whether the Merritt RCMP were improperly motivated. What we learned was that there were a few officers there who simply enjoyed traffic work, took a particular interest in it, and inspired other officers to do the same. Officers were often assigned to speed enforcement on the highways headed into town. There was nothing we could find wrong with it. Because it became common knowledge, drivers were careful to abide by the speed limit in and around Merritt which we would have to agree is a positive outcome from the perspective of public policy.

Questionable / Inappropriate motivation

When it comes to impaired driving enforcement, officers who are in traffic units are expected to apprehend and suspend a target number of drivers each year to be placed on “Alexa’s Team.” If you Google “Alexa’s Team” you’ll find news stories and press releases going back over a decade speaking of officers receiving public recognition for apprehending and suspending a certain number of suspected drunk drivers in a year. This is highly problematic.

Some officers have expressed to us that they have been warned that they must meet that quota “or else” which is probably a hollow threat. Other officers have told us that they find this quota so distasteful that they are embarrassed when they get it each year and would prefer not to have this quota system. Most, however, seems to simply smile for the ceremony and feel special because they think they’ve done something good and they don’t question the problematic nature of it.

Of course, we defend all drinking-driving offences in BC and we see many questionable investigations. Officers will ignore evidence that suggests the breath tests are unreliable. As well, we have never seen an officer let someone go when they had a disability or a medical condition and could not provide a breath. This suggests that the motivation to be on Alexa’s Team causes police officers to be reckless in drinking and driving investigations. It is the one area of traffic enforcement where we regularly see officers fall far below the expectations citizens should have of the police.

Kickbacks and quotas on tickets

There are no kickbacks and if there were, we would know about it. These sorts of schemes, which do exist in some regions of the U.S., are readily apparent in budgets and government documents. In addition, so many officers confide in us about aspects of their job that if this were the case, someone would have come out and told us. As well, information that there were kickbacks would come out in court when we conduct trials on traffic tickets.

As far as quotas are concerned, we know that traffic officers are expected to do their job. They have a broad discretion regarding enforcement. In other words, they may let one speeding vehicle pass and pull over the next. But at the end of the day, if they come back to the police station with an unused ticket book, they are likely facing some questions from their superior officers.

There are pressures to demonstrate you are doing your job, but that is actually a fairly low standard. We’ve noticed that most of the dedicated traffic officers have a deep desire to do their job as well as they can. They aren’t motivated by any perceived advantage to themselves or some level of government. The exception is drinking and driving investigations where we see awards issued for meeting targets. In this case we see lower quality policing. What that tells us is that we should all be happy about the fact that there are not inappropriate motivations to issue traffic tickets.

Quotas and awards make for bad policing. Thankfully, in BC police don’t need to meet quotas for traffic tickets.

If you have received a traffic ticket or driving prohibition anywhere in BC, call us or send us an email right away. We have been defending driving offences for decades and we can help you with your ticket because we’re the BC Driving Lawyers. Call us now.