Halifax police wasting hundreds of thousands on night court

Police are wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year dealing with minor traffic offences at night court, the RCMP’s chief superintendent says.

Minor traffic offences tie up officers night after night, chief says

Police aren't even called to testify much of the time. (CBC)

Police are wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year dealing with minor traffic offences at night court, chiefs with the RCMP and Halifax Regional Police say. 

"In fiscal year 2012-13, we expended a little under $285,000 in overtime for court," said RCMP Chief Superintendent Roland Wells. 

Officers have to attend court to testify in matters like speeding tickets and failure to provide proof of insurance. 

For the RCMP:

  • 60% of officers in court are paid double time
  • 77% of the time they aren't called to give evidence

Police are trying to lower the costs of paying police to attend night court.

"To me that's wasted money," Wells said. "There's much more things I'd like to do within HRM. I could spend the money fighting violent crime."

Halifax police spend even more

Halifax Regional Police spend even more: up to $600,000 a year.

"From a financial perspective, the numbers are large," said Deputy Chief Bill Moore. "We've spent as much over the last five years as almost $600,000 in a year.  And we're around $350,000 per year now in the night court."  

Night court HRP/RCMP costs
YearNumber of tickets issuedTotal cost to police
2009-201046,202 $588,881.35 
2010 - 1144,295$376,790.78
2011-1249,445$342,525.64
2012-1345,107$385,131.77

Those costs negate revenue earned from traffic tickets.

"The reason we write tickets for motor vehicle is for traffic safety," Moore said. "If one was looking at it from a financial perspective, it's really not a make-money deal."

Halifax police have managed to cut costs by reducing the number of officers who go to court. "For instance if there's two officers in a car and they both witness the offence, do we necessarily have to have both officers going to court?" Moore said. 

Wells has a working group studying how the RCMP handles night court.

"It's not just all fiscal," he said. "But we have to look at our officer safety and our officer work-life balance as well.  When you finish a long shift, the very last thing you want to do is turn around and go to court and sit in court for a couple of hours when you may not be required."

Both police forces now have full-time court liaison officers who try to anticipate when police will have to attend night court.

Wells said cutting court costs should lead to more effective policing.

Fighting crime, not waiting in court

"I think where we'll end up is being in a better position fiscally, being able to spend that money in dealing with serious violence and crime and things that people want us to do," Wells said.  

"That's wasted resource and we have to do better than that." 

Starting Nov. 1, police will handle some minor traffic tickets at police headquarters. The provincial court used to do that.

"We're not cancelling tickets," Moore said. "We will take that information and the ticket, we turn that over to the city prosecutor and they actually go into court and formally withdraw the charge."

Wells is giving the RCMP working group six months to come up with ways to streamline the system.  After that, he says, it may be time to try something else.

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