The city has yet to receive an explanation for a decline in tickets handed out by police between 2012 and 2014. This year’s loss totals a projected $29.6 million.
The City of Toronto expects to lose $29.6 million this year because of a 33 per cent drop in traffic tickets issued by police, while the mayor and staff have been waiting months for an explanation.
This is the second year in a row to see a significant decrease in the number of traffic infractions under the Highway Traffic Act — more than 150,000 fewer citations, a drop of one-third between 2013 and 2014.
While police attribute the problem largely to fewer officers on the streets and the learning curve involved in a new filing system, councillors are concerned the real reason is the 2012 budget freeze.
“That is a big number and that is a big, serious concern for us going into the 2015 budget process,” said the city’s chief financial officer, Rob Rossini. Rossini said staff have been seeking explanations for the shortfall from the police service since February.
In 2013, Rossini said, a smaller decline in tickets meant a loss to the city of between $13 million and $14 million. In August, city council requested that the service respond with a report in September on the reason for decline. That report has yet to come, Rossini said, though he remains “confident” it will be forthcoming.
Mayor John Tory said he has been concerned about the lost ticket revenues since he was briefed on the issue.
“There has to be an explanation as to why there would be such a dramatic drop,” Tory said during a break from the first meeting of his executive committee. “I’m quite supportive of, as you saw in there, getting an explanation.”
Tory said he would not speculate on a motive for the ticket decline.
But some officials who heard the new numbers at a committee meeting Friday have raised concerns that it could be the result of deliberate police inaction.
Unlike parking enforcement, which is carried out by both the police and a separate city division, only police are able to issue traffic tickets under the Highway Traffic Act.
Councillor Michael Thompson said he’s concerned there is a connection between the recent budget freeze and the decline in tickets.
“Clearly it’s a game that’s going on. It’s also a game that’s being played by the police association as well. It’s a game all around, quite frankly, and the game is not in the best interest of … the City of Toronto.”
Both the Toronto police and the union representing officers rejected the idea the decline has been deliberate.
Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said there is “absolutely no correlation” between the budget freeze and traffic ticket issuance numbers.
She gave three reasons for the decline, including fewer officers on the streets, officers issuing more traffic warnings instead of actual tickets, and a new records management system that has taken some getting used to by officers on the street.
Police association president Mike McCormack also pointed to the new records system, which he said makes officers more reluctant to issue tickets. A process that once only took a couple of minutes now takes up to 10 or 15 minutes for each infraction, he said.