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To serve, protect and avoid traffic tickets?
Scott Mclean, CTV Calgary
Published Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:17PM MDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 26, 2015 6:55PM MDT
Calgary Police officers are being caught in their own photo radar traps several times per day, but are seldom issued tickets, a CTV News investigation has found.
According to documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, between July 2012 and July, 2014, police officers were caught speeding or running red lights 1,661 times. In more than half of the offences, the vehicle’s emergency lights had not been activated.
The 1,661 infractions resulted in the issuing of 24 tickets, the bulk of which were sent to high ranking members of the Calgary Police Service (CPS), including former police chief Rick Hanson, who seldom respond to emergency calls.
Only six of the 24 traffic tickets were paid. In one case, the CPS couldn’t pin down who was driving its vehicle at the time of the photo, and no one came forward to claim it. The $212 fine was paid out of the CPS budget.
“There will be occasions when officers have to speed, to go beyond the speed limit in the execution of their duties,” said Calgary Police Service spokesperson Kevin Brookwell.
Alberta law does permit officers, in the course of their duties, to break traffic laws, with or without their emergency lights flashing, but it must be “reasonable and safe” to do so.
Photographs of CPS vehicles speeding or running red lights are automatically filtered into an internal disciplinary system for review. Once there, tickets are seldom issued, even when officers admit to their supervisors that they have no good reason to break the law.
“I would suggest that probably our internal process is more robust and has more implications than anything the public would get,” said Brookwell.
Still, documents show that officers are asked to justify their traffic sins barely more than one third of the time.
Police also say that officers could be let off the hook even when they break the law in their personal vehicles.
Brookwell says some members of the CPS register their personal vehicles using a police address for officer safety reasons. As a result of the registration arrangement, photo radar tickets may be discarded even though the infraction was committed by an off-duty officer in their personal vehicle
“While I can’t sit here and say with 100 per cent confidence that that isn’t happening, I would say that the integrity of these people in executing their job is above reproach,” said Brookwell.
Retired lawyer and University of Calgary law professor Chris Levy said he’s not surprised officers are registering their vehicles this way, but is surprised the CPS is willing to admit it.
“I think officer safety sometimes is being used as a cloak for other things,” said Levy.
He said the failings of the internal photo radar system of the CPS are due to lax police oversight, and enforcement that’s been left to police itself.
“It’s true that there’s a police commission, but it’s a pretty toothless tiger,” said Levy. “I think we’re becoming as a society increasingly concerned about this very incestuous self-investigation.”
The findings of the CTV investigation did not sit well with citizens paying their fines for traffic violations at the Calgary Courts Centre.
“These cops can get away with anything they want. It’s just not how it’s supposed to be,” said Khalid, who would not divulge his last name, but was in the process of fighting a speeding ticket.
The news is also not sitting well with the police commission, which is the force’s oversight body.
“The CPS acknowledges there have been gaps in how some traffic violations have been processed internally,” spokesperson Ellen Wright wrote in a statement to CTV.
Wright said the commission would not comment further until it had more information from the CPS, at which point it promised to “ensure policies are amended to ensure similar incidents don’t occur in the future.”
The commission has now asked police to review its policies and report back to the commission on May 26.
Police say there is progress in the attempt to fix the problem. Now, the majority of officers caught on photo radar have been asked to provide an explanation for the violation and officials are currently working through the backlog of unexplained offences.
Of the six tickets that were paid by police officers, three were paid by former chief Hanson, who is now running for MLA as a PC member in Calgary-Cross.
Hanson was actually caught four times, but the CPS says due to human error, the fourth ticket was never sent.
Hanson was in charge at the time the internal system was implemented, and during the time of the CTV investigation. Hanson was asked to comment before he announced he was leaving office.
A campaign spokesperson said Hanson would not be commenting on police issues.
This is part one of a three-part investigation. Part 2 will focus on the inner-workings of the CPS’ internal system, and why police are so rarely convicted for traffic infractions, even when tickets are issued.