The Australian public have long held a deep distrust of how and when police hand out fines on our roads.
The idea of internal quotas that push officers to write as many tickets as possible in the name of revenue raising is so pervasive in the national consciousness that a 2008 survey revealed that 40 percent of Aussies believe the primary purpose of speed cameras is to fill government coffers.
Police will respond in disgust when asked if there are quotas, and we dare you to try your luck at dropping the term ‘revenue raising’ the next time a copper pulls you over – it likely won’t go over well.
And yet in the last month there have been two separate incidents that showed the myth of quotas might not be as fanciful as police press offices want you to believe - despite Police Commissioner Ian Stewart telling media in 2014 that there are no quotas.
To recap, Queensland Police have been accused of having quotas, after a series of emails surfaced revealing how top cops pressured members of the force to write more tickets. The internal communications included ‘definitely not encouraging quota’ lines such as “there is an expectation that you WILL write tickets”, and had the officer-in-charge for one area ordering officers to write at least five tickets. Another cop said 10 tickets a month was not unrealistic.
All of this comes despite Acting Assistant Commissioner for Road Police Command Mick Keating telling ABC in 2015: "I would prefer to use slightly different words, but I can absolutely assure you there is no minimum, no maximum number of tickets.”
And then earlier this month a police manager in South Australia was caught incentivising extra ticket writing by officers. The manager promised a gift card for the member of staff that “made the greatest contribution to road safety by way of Traffic Infringement Notice Expiations or Cautions.”
But the police don’t have quotas for traffic fines, remember.
SAPOL tried to distance itself from the situation, releasing a statement that it “has no quotas for the issuing of expiation notices and never has”. Does anyone believe that?
Sure, while Australia’s police forces might not have official edicts that are handed down as policy, it’s clear that middle- and upper-management are getting increasingly pushy with boots on the ground to write more tickets.
The fact that police write traffic tickets isn’t the issue here, as we all know that bad drivers exist in Australia. But it’s the methods used to measure success that is open to question.
Surely the focus should be on decreasing accidents and dangerous driving through a multi-faceted campaign that both catches out poor drivers, and reinforces good behaviour?
While issuing tickets is part of that process, it can’t be a core indicator of performance, and needs to occur alongside public education efforts both large and small.
There have been 75 more deaths on Australian roads compared to the same time last year, an increase of 11.5 percent. Merely writing more tickets hasn’t fixed the issue and it’s about time the police realised it.