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Things Not Fine With Ticket Quotas

Things Not Fine With Ticket Quotas

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

A recent nationwide survey of some 750 people – conducted by UMR Research, for the New Zealand Police Association – has found that most people disagree with the Government initiative giving police quotas for the issuing of traffic tickets.

Some 86 percent of respondents believed that a quota of one ticket per hour was unfair and unjust. Only 11 percent believed such quotas were a good idea.

While most New Zealanders understand the importance of sensible traffic policing, to reduce dangerous driving and save lives, they draw the line at activities that appear to be overt revenue gathering exercises.

Take, for example, police with video cameras hiding in long grass on verges overlooking winding roads, filming vehicles cutting corners, then contacting fellow officers further down the road to issue instant $150 fines – even though the roads are deserted. Or roadblocks set up to catch mothers driving their kids to school, fining them if they forget to put their driver’s licence in their dressing gown pocket.

Meanwhile, while police are out there nabbing the mums, criminals are committing 50 crimes an hour – including four car conversions, five violent crimes, six drug offences, seven burglaries, and 15 thefts. So mum, having been given a traffic ticket, arrives home to find her house burgled, and – depending on where she lives – must wait 19 hours for the police turn up.

Judging by the public furore that followed reports of a Taihape policeman, who boasted how easy it was to issue 100 traffic tickets in a day, the police traffic ticket quota system is in danger of destroying the long-standing goodwill that has always existed between the police and the public. Yet, if police are to be able to effectively fulfil their primary role of reducing crime and keeping people safe, it is imperative that public confidence in them is not undermined,

A few weeks ago, after being out overnight with police on the beat in South Auckland – getting a sense of how overwhelmed they are through being understaffed, overstressed and under-resourced – I wrote a column that started with the comment: “I feel very sorry for the police”. I was surprised by the many responses from people who were angry with police, for issuing them with speeding tickets for keeping up with the traffic flow on roads that did not have a history of accidents.

In the year to July 2004, the police are expected to issue up to 325,000 traffic infringement notices, bringing in revenue of $90,644,000. This is up from $48,270,000 in 1999, when Labour became Government.

The reality is that Police Minister George Hawkins’ obsession with traffic policing is raising accusations that the Government is using police as revenue gatherers. If traffic fines – as well as road user charges, petrol taxes and the like – were re-invested in driver education and improving roading, the problem would not be so bad. The fact is, however, that people know that their fine money – and much of the traffic-generated funding – goes into the consolidated fund, to be spent on Maori TV, the America’s Cup challenge and other unpopular Government spending projects.

Answers to my Parliamentary questions show that when a dangerous stretch of Wellington road was resurfaced, the accident rate dropped dramatically. Realistically, a significant proportion of all road accidents can be attributed to poor road engineering, which could be improved with an appropriate investment.

Tensions around traffic policing also exist within the police.

Resources have been poured into Highway Patrols, relegating other policing duties to second-rate status. Yet it is precisely those non-traffic duties that people, concerned about rising crime, see as being the primary role of police.

For example, as a result of an increasing number of police officers being attacked by offenders crazed on methamphetamines, it doesn’t seem right that they do not have access to protective clothing.

While lightweight protective vests – which can withstand knife attacks – cost around the same as the reflective clothing worn by officers on traffic duty, there is resistance to their introduction. To the public – and OSH – the issuing of such equipment is commonsense, and you must wonder why the Government doesn’t see that.

In the interests of strengthening the goodwill towards the police, I wonder whether separating traffic enforcement from general police duties would help, reversing the merger by the National Government in 1992.

The Police Association asked UMR Research to survey public opinion on this issue in their poll. The results indicated that 57 percent of New Zealanders felt the two roles should be separated, while 39 percent felt that police should handle both traffic enforcement and general police duties.

Given the increasingly negative response of the public to traffic quotas and the police, it would appear sensible to lift these quotas. The New Zealand Police force has one of the highest levels of public confidence – not only of any institutions in this country – but in the Western world. It is wrong for the Government to compromise that confidence.

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