Does the Hamilton Police have a ticket quota?
To answer in a word. Yes.
That's bad enough, and I'll explain it fully. But it's actually far, far worse than just a quota.
First, the quota. So this experience I'm going to share is mine, and may not be universally transferable from department to department. From my discussions with other officers, the info that follows is fairly standard. Ticket quotas exist. Police managers don't have the audacity to call them that, though. The managers like to use the term 'Goals and Objectives'. So every year, I'd have to write down three goals and objectives I allegedly wanted to achieve that year. Now, as a police officer, all I really wanted to do was 1) Be a good person 2) Make people happy 3) Stay out of trouble.
Is that good enough for the politician cops? No, it isn't.
They need your objectives to be more in line with... the stated goals of the department. I'm talking about tickets. The Hamilton Police always wants more tickets, so that when the head politician cop (Chief) asks for a budget increase - it's justified with all the tickets the cops give out. Due to this, Staff Sgt's demanded that one of my goals and objectives is a quantified number of tickets, usually about 10 per month. But why would the Staff Sgt care about the number of tickets? It's because the performance of the Staff Sgt is judged on the ticket performance of the squad working for them. As is the performance of the division a reflection of the performance of the Superintendent/Inspector. Once I became fully disgusted with this system I wrote one of my goals as 1) Be a good person. I was told that this goal is inadequate and it must be tickets, and was forced to change that goal.
Allow me to break this down with an example: Constable Eirgt doesn't like to give out tickets, most cops don't. PC Eirgt is still expected to give out 10 a month though. If he doesn't, he doesn't get things that he asks for. Want to be a Detective in Vice? How's your tickets? How about a lunch break at a certain time to get to an appointment? How's your tickets? Don't like being moved division to division year over year? Tickets! So you can see that poor Eirgt is incentivized to play the ticket giving game. What if Eirgt prefers educating the public and giving warnings? Warnings don't generate revenue for the city (and pad the utility of police for increased budget requests).
So around comes April for PC Eirgt , and he's just been a good cop, doing calls for service and helping the public. Problem is - Eirgt only has 5 tickets when he should have 40. So on the scheduled audit of the divisional performance, the Superintendent notifies PC Eirgt's Staff Sgt that he's not doing well enough. This is because the Superintendent is also chasing that pay increase and doesn't want to be the lowest in ticket numbers by division (more on that later).
Staff Sgt then tells Sgt to tell Eirgt to start caring about tickets (ones that make money specifically). So on a normal shift, PC Eirgt comes into work expecting to answer calls for service, help the public, you know - the stuff police are paid to do. But the Sgt has plans for him, he needs tickets.
So instead of Eirgt doing his actual job all day, he's assigned to 'enforcement car', meaning for the entire shift all he'll be doing is giving out tickets. As many tickets as he can. After all, he's got 35 tickets to hand out in order to stay in the good books. So now he's got a dilemma, he doesn't like hammering the public, but he needs to get back in line so as to stay out of trouble with the police bosses.
What's Eirgt to do?
Go to the spot where people speed of course. Also known as a speed trap. Is Eirgt going to go a residential area in front of a school where a low number of drivers speed as most determine their speed intuitively? No! He's going straight to that spot where the speed limit is too low, or just before the sign changing the limit. That way he can hand out 35 tickets, and be in the good books once again. His Sgt probably even tells him that if he gets all 35 he can take lunch at the end of the shift and go home early.
So you, the public are out driving and get pulled into that speed trap. Were you speeding? Yes. Was this enforcement action the result of an interest in public safety, though? If it was it would be in an area where kids are running around. It will, however, be framed in the interest of safety, but at its core this enforcement is a top down approach to police officers maintaining promotion ability.
You're getting tickets so cops can get promoted.
Now imagine a world where the Special Investigations Unit, the organization that investigates police misconduct, actually compete against each other to see which investigator can charge the most police officers. Outrage would follow. Police unions would go decry this blatant transgression against the brave men and women of law enforcement. How can you gamify charging cops? How is that fair? Wouldn't that incentivize the charging of cops, throwing discretion out the window? Doesn't sound too fair to me, either. But what if I told you that this is exactly what cops do with handing you tickets?
Indeed it is, they compete with each other on the basis of tickets handed out. Not on the basis of making people happy, or education, or peaceful and effective solutions. Just tickets. At a divisional level, the Superintendents compete with each other, and preach the ticket evangel to the subordinates, in order to be number one in the Service.
Division A has more than Division B, let's get out there and give more tickets!
This system also exists at a Squad level (the shift of too few officers that cover a division). Let's say Squad 1 has 300 tickets this year and Squad 2 only has 100. Squad 2 will get told that this is unacceptable and as a way of motivating more tickets into the quota, they are told to let Squad 1's success drive the desire to give more tickets. So it sounds like officers are put in a position where they really really really want to give out tickets. But tickets are a means to an end, and not the only one. Education is one means, but it will obviously rarely be used as there's no education quota.
In my opinion, the very existence of this unknown system nullifies the validity of the tickets handed out by the Hamilton Police. Several police services have tried a similar system with arrests, it didn't go so well for them.
What can you do about this?
Knowledge is power. Empower yourself. Don't argue with cops who are padding their quotas, don't escalate. The officer handing you that ticket has little to do with the problem, and that officer is not the causality. Few officers actually want to give out tickets, the ones that do aren't well liked by their coworkers.
As much as the police want to take part in youtube challenges to feign participation in society, they are anomalous to progressive behaviour.
It will take a complete culture change in the police, starting at the top, to start seeing the police as a constructive force in our country.
Thanks for reading,
- Josh Coulter