Cadets hit Montreal streets to take over light-changing duties

For years, Montrealers paid millions in overtime for police officers to keep traffic moving at construction sites. As we head into one of the busiest construction seasons the city has ever seen, cadets will be doing traffic-cop duty at more intersections.

As one of busiest construction seasons ever begins, fewer police officers are on hand for traffic-cop duty

Montreal police will hire a total of 125 cadets to take over traffic control duties at up to 75 per cent of the city's construction sites this season. (CBC)

After years of paying millions of dollars in overtime to get experienced police officers to keep the traffic flowing through construction zones by manually changing traffic lights, Montrealers will finally be seeing some savings.

A total of 125 cadets will take over the majority of traffic duties at work sites this construction season.

The majority of those cadets have now been trained and deployed. There are still 30 left to be hired and trained before Montreal police reach their target.

"We're very glad to see progress being made on this front," said Coun. Alex Norris, the chair of the city's public security committee, calling the exclusive use of police officers "a colossal waste of resources, money and expertise." 

Millions in overtime

The Montreal police service budgeted $3.8 million in 2018 to hire and train the cadets.

A cadet costs the city around $17 an hour.

By comparison, using police officers to do light-changing duty costs around $60 an hour. The work is done on overtime and doesn't affect regular operations.

Last year, Montreal police officers spent 150,748 hours directing traffic or changing lights at city-managed construction sites. That cost the city $7.8 million in overtime.

Police spent another 34,617 hours in 2017 managing traffic at construction sites that were not owned by the city, according to documents released to CBC through an access to information request.

That cost more than $3 million but was paid by third parties.

However, the bill for most of that police work went to other taxpayer-funded entities, including the Quebec Ministry of Transport, the consortium responsible for the Turcot Interchange work and the federal bridge corporation.

Overtime pay for officers controlling traffic lights at construction sites has cost more than $27 million since 2015. (CBC)

Roadwork extravaganza

It's already shaping up to be a challenging summer on the streets of Montreal.

The city is spending $1.14 billion on what it has called an "ambitious plan" of road and sewer work. That's an increase of nearly 50 per cent over last year's spending and a record high for the city.

The aim is to do all the necessary work on any one project in one shot, so no further work will be needed on the same site for at least five years. 

The city and the Montreal police work together to determine which sites require police presence and at what times.

"There's been so many work sites that we have that we've had no choice but to do it," said Insp. André Durocher.

"It's unprecedented. I've been a police officer for over 30 years, and I have not seen that many work sites that we've seen in the past three or four years."

The priority is to ensure "vulnerable" road users — pedestrians and cyclists — can get through safely, said Montreal police Cmdr. Sylvain Dubois of the road operations support unit. 

Cadets will start out at sites that are less complex, but the idea is that they will be able to work at any intersection where they're needed, Dubois said.

"We have police officers who are able to coach them and help them with their work to make sure they develop good techniques," he said.

"After that, cadets will be used at all construction sites. There is no distinction."

Collective agreement allowed for shift

All of the newly hired cadets will be specifically assigned to traffic control. 

They all receive three days of training directly from the Montreal police and further supervision and support while out on the streets.

To qualify for the job, they need a high school diploma and to pass a police background check, but they don't necessarily need to be in training to become an officer, Dubois said.

Under the terms of their latest collective agreement, Montreal police officers will be responsible for a minimum of 25 per cent of traffic duties at constructions sites. (CBC)

A few cadets who had been working at festivals were trained and deployed last fall, after the Montreal Police Brotherhood signed a new collective agreement which allowed the Montreal police service to assign cadets to up to 75 per cent of the constructions site where police are required.

Under that agreement, a minimum of 25 per cent of sites must be supervised by police officers.

"What we've seen with the more experienced cadets is it's going very well, and they end up having a method of working that's very safe and as effective as a police officer," Dubois said.

It remains to be seen how much cadets will save taxpayers, but the city expects it to be in the millions. 

"No matter what the result is at the end of year one, I'm sure it's going to get better in year two because they will develop an expertise, so therefore we'll be able to use them even more," said Durocher.


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