Montreal’s widely loathed quota system for traffic tickets is over, says Mayor Valerie Plante, as are lucrative performance bonuses for bosses that were tied to lower-level cops reaching the targets.
Drivers aren’t getting off easy, however, because the city’s new budget estimates Montreal will collect roughly $12 million more in revenues from traffic and parking violations this year than in 2017.
The union representing police officers, known as the Brotherhood, had been calling for an end to the quotas for years. But past mayors had officially denied any system existed, and it remained the subject of rumour among frustrated motorists who suspected police were trapping drivers primarily to collect revenue for City Hall.
After winning office last November, Montreal’s new government confirmed the system was very real indeed.
“The police directors, in order to get bonuses, the cops under them had to reach a certain number of tickets,” Nathalie Goulet, the city councillor responsible for public security, said in a recent interview. “The bonuses used to be as high as eight per cent of a director’s annual salary.”
In 2016, she said, the city paid a total of $350,000 in bonuses linked to fines handed to motorists.
“We don’t think it’s the first mission of the police to trap drivers or cyclists for traffic violations,” Goulet said. “Police will continue to give tickets but they will no longer be tied to the evaluation of their (bosses).”
Goulet said she didn’t know what the quotas were.
In 2014, police union head Yves Francoeur told reporters that police bikers had a target of 18 tickets per day, while the traffic squad had 16. “Depending on the staffing of a police station, it’s between 450 and 1,500 a month (per station),” he said at the time.
Francoeur claimed that in order to fulfil their monthly quotas, police were told to ignore all but the most serious calls on some days, and instead focus on handing out fines.
The union has been silent since the new mayor made the announcement.
“We have clearly stated our position in the past on this issue,” Brotherhood spokesman Martin Desrochers said in an email.
Despite the end of the quota system, Goulet couldn’t say exactly why the city predicted it would collect more money this year in fines. A city spokesman couldn’t provide a clear answer, either.
“We estimate, it will be highly likely, the revenues generated from traffic and parking tickets (in 2018) will go back to normal,” Goulet said.
By “normal,” Goulet was referring to the years before the police were in a contentious battle with the city over a new contract and unwelcome changes to their pensions.
In 2013, the city collected almost $173 million in traffic and parking violations, but that number dropped to $161 million the following year, when then-mayor Denis Coderre announced he wanted to cut the city’s contributions into municipal workers’ pension funds.
Coderre had publicly demanded millions back from the police after accusing them of purposefully not giving out tickets in order to deprive the city of money as a pressure tactic during negotiations.
Ticket revenues continued to fall as contract talks stalled, reaching a low of $147 million in 2016, before climbing to $174 million in 2017, the year police and the city signed a new agreement with generous pay increases.
Goulet said her party was able to quickly abolish the quota system because it had strong support from the new, interim police chief, Martin Prud’homme, who is on a one-year leave from the provincial police to help clean up Montreal’s force.
The provincial government suspended former chief Philippe Pichet in December after a series of scandals shook the public’s confidence in the city police.
“Prud’homme really listened to us,” Goulet said, and recognized “very, very quickly” that it was a good idea to get rid of the quotas.
Police services across Canada told The Canadian Press – some more clearly than others – that their officers don’t work under quota systems.
Chuck Benoit, a spokesman for Ottawa police, said unequivocally, “there is no quota.”
In Vancouver, Sgt. Jason Robillard said he “wasn’t aware of any traffic quotas,” but did not return an email asking if he could confirm that information.
In 2012, a Toronto news outlet reported on a leaked police memo that discussed how officers were supposed to write up to 25 tickets a day, but the police said at the time the document had incorrect information.
“The Toronto Police Service doesn’t have a quota system,” Const. Clinton Stibbe said in an email.
Montreal lawyer Avi Levy, who runs Ticket 911, a company dedicated to representing people charged with driving violations, said the end of the quota system will likely mean police officers have more discretion regarding whether to give a ticket.
“Maybe we’ll see less tickets and more warnings,” he said. “Myself and clients haven’t seen warnings in a long time (from police) – in years. It’s like there is no such thing as a warning anymore. You either get a ticket or you don’t.”
The Montreal police did not return a request for comment.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press