Quotas, Quotas Everywhere…


The case of five former Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) enforcement officers charged with criminal offences (attempting to obstruct justice and fabricating evidence) in relation to a ticket falsification scandal has brought the issue of “charge quotas ” to the forefront. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ttc-trial-quota-1.3522252)

The five former transit enforcement officers were charged by Toronto police in January 2013, shortly after the TTC fired the officers for “writing falsified tickets to people of no fixed address from late 2012 to early 2013.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ttc-trial-quota-1.3522252)

During the trial, counsel for one accused former officer focused on the pressure being placed on TTC enforcement officers to issue a particular number of tickets, in order to ensure continued employment.

 

Ticket and/or charge quotas are not new,

nor are the unique to the TTC.

 

Reference was made to a 2010 meeting in which Bill Blair, Toronto’s police chief at the time, had recommended cancelling TTC’s special constable program because transit enforcement officers “had fallen ‘considerably short’ of the TTC’s own performance targets for criminal code arrests and the number of tickets or cautions handed out.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ttc-trial-quota-1.3522252)

At the same meeting, Fergie Reynolds, who was at that point TTC’s manager of the special constable program, said that “the enforcement figures may make it difficult to justify the cost of the special constable program,” going on to say that “it’s ‘not unreasonable’ to expect each transit enforcement officer to file 25 Provincial Offences Act or by-law charges per month, or about two tickets (called “pieces of paper” in the document) for every 1.5 hours of patrol time.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ttc-trial-quota-1.3522252)

 

Ticket and/or charge quotas are not new, nor are they unique to the TTC. (See, for instance: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/marni-soupcoff-think-police-really-dont-have-ticket-quotas-check-out-these-leaks, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/police-criticized-for-frivolous-ticket-blitz-1.1220955, and http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/bonuses-for-tickets-police-union-calls-on-city-to-halt-scheme)

In general, quotas and other initiatives that place significant pressure on actors in the criminal justice system to lay charges and/or secure convictions are highly problematic.

 

 Policing is not a game; the goal should not be to get a “higher score” than other police services.

 

It is particularly troubling when law enforcement officers are subject to quotas because these front-line individuals act as gatekeepers for the criminal justice system; in most cases, accused individuals are only brought into the criminal justice system because of their interactions with law enforcement officers.

There is a relatively low threshold that peace officers need to meet in order to arrest someone: an officer must have a reasonable belief—which, at least in theory, includes both subjective and objective considerations—that an individual has committed an offence. (See section 495 of the Criminal Code.) Of course, wrongful arrests happen quite regularly, and there are generally no consequences for officers who arrest individuals who are later found to be not guilty.

 

Police services are often evaluated by a measure referred to as a “clearance rate.” (See, for instance, this table from Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11647/tbl/tbl05-eng.htm)

As Statistics Canada explains, calculating the clearance rate is extremely simple:

To calculate a clearance rate, the number of incidents that have been “solved” by police is divided by the number of incidents reported to, and substantiated by, police and multiplied by 100. As an example, if a police service reported 200 criminal incidents, 80 of which were cleared by charge, 20 of which were cleared by other means and 100 of which were unsolved, then their clearance rate would be: (80 + 20) / 200 * 100 = 50%.” (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11647-eng.htm)

 

While there is nothing inherently wrong with keeping track of a number of different types of statistics, great care must be taken to ensure that we understand exactly what these statistics tell us and, more importantly, what they do not. We must guard against reading too much into particular statistical measures like clearance rates, and we must recognize the dangers associated with letting these guide enforcement policy.

Policing is not a game; the goal should not be to get a “higher score” than other police services.

Placing undue emphasis on clearance rates—by instituting charge quotas, for instance—can lead to charges being laid where none should have been. Officers may feel pressured to investigate hastily and lay charges quickly so that they may move on to other matters. As long as the “reasonable belief” standard is met, officers are generally considered to have done their job—regardless of whether a more thorough investigation would have exonerated a particular individual.

 

It may be best to envision the various layers of the criminal justice system as a type of funnel, with standards getting more onerous with each level:

(Least Onerous Standard)

–Police standard for laying charge: reasonable belief that an individual has committed an offence à

–Prosecution standard for continuing with a charge: reasonable prospect (or likelihood, in many jurisdictions) of conviction and public interest à

–Judicial standard for finding of guilt: proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt

(Most Onerous Standard)

 

Quality should be valued over quantity—

despite the fact that quantity is much easier to measure.

 

The increasingly onerous standards as you move from police to prosecutor to judge are meant to protect against wrongful convictions. Essentially, this is a system of checks and balances on power; in theory, charges that shouldn’t have been laid by police will be dropped by prosecutors, and judges will acquit when prosecutors continue to prosecute cases that should have been terminated.

But this ignores the fact that, in some jurisdictions (particularly in the United States, where many jurisdictions have elected prosecutors and elected judges, in addition to elected police chiefs in some areas), there are significant pressures at multiple levels to churn out convictions.

For example, if “conviction rate” is used as a proxy measure of a prosecutor’s job performance, this would lead to significant concerns about wrongful convictions. Some prosecutors may feel the need to secure convictions at all costs. (See this excellent article from Maclean’s about the problems that can occur where prosecutors fail to disclose exculpatory evidence: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/wrong-man-yet-again/)

Just as convictions rates should never be used to determine prosecution or judicial quality, clearance rates should not be used as a measure of police effectiveness; officers should not have to meet any sort of charge quota. It creates a terrible incentive structure to have officers fear for their jobs for failing to lay a particular number of charges in a set time frame.

 

I, for one, would rather have police investigate thoroughly.

Quality should be valued over quantity—despite the fact that quantity is much easier to measure.


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About Brandon Trask

Brandon Trask is a regular blog contributor and former colleague of Daniel Murphy and currently a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. He was formerly a Crown Attorney in Newfoundland and Labrador. Brandon holds law degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto.