Few internal consequences for police caught speeding for no reason
Published Thursday, March 26, 2015 4:35PM MDT Last Updated Thursday, March 26, 2015 6:54PM MDT
The Calgary Police Service disciplines its officers for driving infractions through a tough internal system, which it says has more serious implication than the courts. But a CTV News investigation shows that police who speed and run red lights have never been punished under that in-house regime.
CPS members are caught in photo radar several times per day, but are rarely issued tickets – just 24 were written between July, 2012 and July, 2014. The rest of those photos are filtered into an internal system where officers are supposed to justify their traffic infractions.
"What the public doesn’t know is that we have an internal driver demerit system very similar to the Alberta driver system,” said Calgary Police Spokesperson Kevin Brookwell.
But police admit that in the five-year history of its internal system, not a single demerit point has been given out for officers simply caught speeding or running red lights on photo radar.
Those points are reserved exclusively for officers involved in collisions. The CPS says around five officers per year lose their driving privileges because of those crashes.
Through Freedom of Information requests, CTV found there have been other close calls. In May, 2014 an unmarked police vehicle doing surveillance on a home invasion suspect burned through a red light going 65 kilometres per hour.
The officer’s commander, Inspector Terry Larson, described the infraction as “justified but dangerous.”
“A collision on a red light at 65 km/h could prove to be fatal at worst - certainly a high probability of injuries,” wrote Larson.
Police collisions have been deadly. In 2014, a Quebec police officer, also doing surveillance, was clocked at 122km/h before he slammed into a car at an intersection killing a five-year-old boy.
The officer involved was never charged. Brookwell says that scenario is the force’s worst fear.
“Is it a tragedy waiting to happen?” Brookwell said. “I would be foolish to sit here and say that knowing it’s happened everywhere else it will never happen here.”
Retired lawyer and University of Calgary Law Professor Chris Levy hopes it never happens in Calgary, but is skeptical that police can change before it does.
“The issue only too often is ‘will this make us look bad,’ rather than ‘what does integrity require,’” said Levy.
The CPS says it has an education campaign for its officers to try to ensure they get to the call rather than become the call. But Brookwell says part of the reason police rarely write tickets to staff is because they are issued to the registered owner of the vehicle – the CPS – rather than the individual. Brookwell says supervisors can figure out who is driving in most cases.
“By law you can’t be given a ticket on an automated enforcement because there’s the identity of the driver [issue],” he said.
Defense lawyer Rame Katrib doesn’t buy that argument.
“I imagine they can figure out who was driving and they should be responsible and they should have some sort of responsibility if they’re doing something they shouldn’t, or don’t have a proper excuse,” said Katrib.
Other organizations don’t seem to have an issue. Southland Transportation, which operates school buses in southern Alberta, says photo radar tickets are not common, but when they are issued, they are passed onto the driver to pay. There’s no legal obligation for them to, but Southland says there are job implications. So far, it has had no problems getting drivers to pay on the “honour system.”
The City of Calgary employees are even made to pay. The head of the city’s fleet section Jacquie Deitch says when city employees are hired they formally agree to deal with any tickets they receive while driving city vehicles. Deitch says employees who don’t pay can be fired, but says that’s rarely been an issue.
“[Employees] understand from the get-go as an operator for the city that this is their responsibility. It’s not a challenge,” she said.
Between July 2012 and July 2014 City of Calgary employees (excluding police) racked up 476 photo radar tickets in total. Nearly every one of them was paid by an employee.