Traffic tickets down 20% as officers adjust to new system

A new format for writing traffic tickets has resulted in a decline of more than 20 per cent in the number infractions issued by Winnipeg Police. Tickets for offences including speeding, running a light or distracted driving now takes longer for officers to complete.

Drive to reduce officer OT behind major change to tickets

Tickets now take longer to write, but could save WPS in the long run. (CBC News)

After new long-form traffic tickets were introduced, the number of traffic tickets written by Winnipeg police dropped by 20 per cent in the month of December alone.

The new format for writing all kinds of tickets — including speeding, running a light or distracted driving — now takes longer for officers to complete, but the goal is to reduce overtime for officers to attend court.

Provincial legislation changes made in November now require officers to fill out what's called a certificate of evidence along with the ticket. One of the significant changes is that people who have been charged with an offence must now convince a magistrate why it's necessary for an officer to attend a hearing.

The Provincial Offences Act replaces the former Summary Offences Act, containing the guiding rules for infractions under the Highway Traffic Act and some municipal bylaws as well.

'Learning curve' means writing tickets takes longer, for now

Traffic division Insp. Gord Spado says the changes have created a "learning curve" for his officers and he admits that partially explains the decline in the number of written tickets in December 2016 versus the number in 2017.

To be honest I couldn't read 90% of them, probably. Now it has to be an actual articulate story.- Traffic division Insp. Gord Spado 

"Every time we issue a ticket we complete the certificate and that is taking some time. That is what our officers are in the process of learning right now," Spado said.

Under the old system officers would make notes on the back of tickets that would frequently be hard to decipher.

"To be honest I couldn't read 90 per cent of them, probably. I've taken a look at some that just had a few letters on them, but it means something to the guys writing them. Now it has to be an actual articulate story," Spado said.

Keeping cops out of court

The first goal for the new system, Spado said, is to reduce the amount of court time for officers when they are not on duty. But also to keep them out of court when they are working. He said it will make the WPS "more efficient."

"Members are also often in court all day on a work day. Which means if they are in court they cannot be out doing the rest of their job," Spado said.

WPS Insp. Gord Spado says if officers are in court they can't be doing the rest of their job. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)
Spado said part of the 20-plus per cent drop in tickets can also be attributed to a colder-than-average December, but acknowledges it was a significant decrease. But he also said it's a snapshot and a six-month block of time will give a better view of the effect of the new system.

"We are definitely asking our officers to do more than they have in the past ... but one of the reasons we are not in a rush to change that right now is, number 1, we don't know what the courts are going to do with these certificates; how well they are going to be accepted. But probably a bigger thing is right now our members are learning exactly what the courts need," Spado said. 

He doesn't believe that losing the incentive of overtime pay on days off will lead to officers writing fewer tickets. 

'Can't challenge a piece of paper'

If the police, courts and motorists are watching the process, so is Len Eastoe.

The retired police officer has been helping drivers fight traffic tickets through his company, Traffic Tickets Experts, since the early '90s.

"It will be much more difficult for the average person to have an officer attend court unless they can get a judicial justice of the peace to agree that in fairness they have to have the officer there to answer questions about what really occurred," Eastoe said. 
Traffic Ticket Experts founder Len Eastoe says new certificates of evidence take away people's chance to challenge the officer who wrote their ticket. (CBC News)

Eastoe said so far he's only worked on two cases under the new system: one where the ticket was thrown out and another where the conviction was upheld.

The former police officer said he has no doubt the WPS will save money by keeping officers out of court and there will be fewer tickets written as a result of the new system.

Eastoe said the certificate of evidence is a "piece of paper that doesn't give you that option."

Will drivers get justice out of the new system? Eastoe said that's the "big question," and expects it will take some months before the answer is clear.

'Better-quality tickets'

Spado said the goal under the new system is to write fewer tickets but with more precision and the new formula should not affect the amount of revenue generated by the tickets.

"Better-quality tickets and better-quality evidence should result in less stays [of convictions] so net affect of fine revenues may not be impacted and on top of that you have the benefits of reduced court time," Spado said.

Nor does Spado believe the changes will affect efforts to deter people from speeding or texting while driving.

"I don't think so, because the enforcement will be more consistent because we don't have guys tied up in court all day on a work day. And I don't think the numbers are going to drop a significantly over time," Spado said.

"They will be down a little bit but I don't think it will significant over time."

About the Author

Sean Kavanagh

Civic affairs - city hall reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than 15 years of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including as the CBC's provincial affairs reporter.