Real crime and driving laws
The population of Surrey BC feels like they’re under siege these days. Property crimes like theft and fraud seem to be rampant. Violent assaults and prominent murder cases go unsolved. Meanwhile, for months we have heard in the press how an investigation into perhaps the most atrocious mass murder in Surrey’s history was badly botched by the police. It’s understandable that people sometimes wonder how the police spend our tax money.
Real crime vs. driving laws
We wrote a blog post last October about what you should and shouldn’t say if you get pulled over for a traffic violation. The post struck a nerve for many people who wonder why the police put a particular focus on driving infractions as opposed to real crime, such as assaults, theft and murder.
One thing many people often point out is that red light tickets, speeding tickets and other traffic tickets bring in revenue in the form of fines. Theft investigations, on the other hand, are merely an expenditure that makes the government no money whatsoever.
It’s a valid point. If the money from tickets went straight to a fund to compensate victims of theft, would the police be handing out as many tickets as they do when the money goes straight to the Government? We’d encourage the Government to try this approach for a few years. But that’s wishful thinking.
Surprised by the enforcement of driving laws?
What surprises us about the enforcement of driving laws is that in places like Surrey, where crime is a significant issue, the RCMP often seem much more focused on the enforcement of driving laws than of criminal laws. We have an office in central Surrey and we’ve been defending criminal DUIs, dangerous driving, hit and run cases and other criminal driving cases in Surrey for nearly 2 decades. These are criminal driving cases dealt with in BC Provincial Court in Surrey, just a few minutes south of our office. The enforcement of these cases seems unchanged despite the perception of a crime spree.
Interesting to us, however, is that the RCMP and BC police seem to have significantly increased the number of traffic tickets that they hand out in Surrey over the last 4 years.
Surrey traffic tickets in Richmond court
We have an office right beside the Richmond traffic court and we appear in BC Provincial Court in Richmond almost every day. Most tickets for speeding, driving without due care and attention or other traffic offences issued by the police in Surrey are handled by the court in Richmond. Whenever there is traffic court, officers from the Integrated Road Safety Unit operating in Surrey are present in court in Richmond.
We are contacted with increasing regularity by people who were ticketed by the police in Surrey. The perception is that traffic enforcement is up in Surrey. Most people perceive no increase in policing of real crime.
When it comes to real crime and traffic laws, it seems that somewhere up the management chain decisions are made to focus on handing out tickets rather than investigating crimes.
A focus on driving laws over real crime?
There is recent and useful research that shows a direct connection to the public enforcement of driving laws and lawbreaking in general. In a recent study (Relationship of Impaired-Driving Enforcement Intensity to Drinking and Driving on the Roads: 2014 Fell et al.) the authors concluded that pulling people over for minor driving offences had a greater effect on reducing drunk driving and lawbreaking in general than the introduction of harsh DUI laws. In one fell swoop this study completely undermines the BC Government’s rational for the Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) law.
The logic of this line of thought falls in with the sociological broken window theory. In essence, law breaking behaviour in general is deterred if it is clear that even minor offences are dealt with by the authorities. If that is the logic behind the increased number of traffic ticket in Surrey, it may dispel some of the cynicism regarding the lack of progress on the real crimes we keep seeing around us.
Cold comfort for those with traffic tickets in Surrey
If you received a traffic ticket in Surrey, the first thing you may have thought to tell the cop was to go arrest some real criminals. Who can blame you? Perhaps you’re part of a social experiment being conducted by the police? Perhaps they’re trying to use you to employ some no-broken-window method of encouraging lawful behaviour in the community? Surely that’s cold comfort, if it’s indeed true.
You might be tempted to think that if the incident in the photo above took place in Surrey, it’s likely that the woman in the photo would get a ticket for not wearing her seat belt. It’s not likely that she would ever see the purse snatcher arrested for his crime.
Another broken window theory for Surrey
There is the sociological broken window theory we discussed above. What about the economic broken window theory? How does that apply?
The parable of the broken window is that if a window is broken, the example is usually of a small retail shop or store, a sequence of spending will ensue beginning with the shop owner contacting a glazier to replace the window. The damage to the window will in effect spur the economy because the shopkeeper will spend otherwise idle money, putting it out and creating work and value for others.
This is also known as the broken window fallacy because the shop owner could use the money for some more productive purpose. The value in the original broken window is lost. There is a net loss to the economy, similar to the loss in the form of a fine for a traffic ticket.
What about a traffic ticket? What is the effect to the economy?
Like a broken window for the shopkeeper, the expense of a traffic ticket is a drain to the economy. The money paid in fines could be used for some more productive use, such as purchasing tools or feeding your family. It could be used to paint your house, or replace that broken window in your shed. As it stands, the money you pay in fines for a traffic ticket in Surrey is indirectly used to pay the officer to give you the ticket.
It makes you wonder whether real crime and driving law are issues at all for the people who decide to spend our tax dollars toward policing.
If you get a ticket in Surrey…
Give us a call if you get a ticket in Surrey. It’s not expensive to hire a lawyer to dispute your traffic ticket. The cost of a conviction for a traffic ticket is more than most sociologists or economists would ever imagine. The cost of a lawyer to defend a traffic ticket is generally money well spent.