"This officer saved my life and he probably doesn't even know it," the letter explained. My head spun as the inspector read further.
"He stopped me for speeding and did something weird. He cautioned me for speeding but gave me a ticket for not wearing my seatbelt. I wasn't sure if I should be grateful or angry but I begrudgingly wore my seatbelt after that. About a month later I was in a bad accident and that seatbelt saved my life. I am grateful and just wanted someone to thank him."
The inspector looked at me solemnly. "So why did you caution him for speeding?" he asked with a wink.
My job as a Toronto police traffic officer was giving tickets to good guys to prevent them from hurting other good guys. This was my rationale for the many thousands of tickets I issued over the years. The letter confirmed that I had saved at least one from his own misadventure.
I didn't enjoy dragging mutilated people out of cars and figured that the more tickets I issued, the less often I would have to do that unpleasant job. An arrested impaired driver was a special catch and almost a badge of honour.
Making traffic stops was routine for me but a life experience the people I stopped would never forget. They would clearly remember every detail and nuance, either real or imagined.
Back in those days we performed our duties in a very well balanced circle of cause and effect. Aggressive traffic enforcement led to orderly traffic movement and reduced collision statistics. It also offered an added bonus in that everyone who sees a traffic stop collaterally receives a caution. That little shot of adrenalin reminds every passing motorist of the value of prudent driving.
My police agency also benefited by learning the name of the person driving the vehicle and the time and location of the stop. Today some might call this the only legitimate "carding" program, since most criminals drive.
The Toronto Police, and many other police agencies as of late, do not get it. It's apparently a revelation that cars are among the biggest status symbols for criminals. They drive city and country roads plying their trade, looking for opportunities. Fortunately for police, few criminals bother to learn much about the highway traffic act.
Many, many years ago the Toronto Police understood and practiced the concepts of traffic control and enforcement. Twenty per cent of Toronto officers worked in dedicated traffic units equipped with a full measure of services designed to control everything that walked, stalked or rolled between the curbs. They ensured orderly movement of traffic using a variety of measures and strategies.
Beginning about 30 years ago management began eying traffic officers as a potential source to bolster numbers in the general patrol and response sectors. The new focus was on the property lines of every house, factory, building and shopping centre. This was where the action was, it was felt, and the change was a magic bullet to both reduce crime and trim budgets. The disingenuous rationale was that now every officer could write tickets between alarm and domestic dispute calls. Dedicated traffic units were disbanded and the members sprinkled among the great unwashed.
The effects of this three decades of neglect are now becoming clear. Toronto roads are more clogged than ever. There are more collisions than officers can deal with and pedestrian fatalities are also increasing. There is an alarming increase in violent crime. A strategy of "randomly" stopping people on the street to obtain names and addresses, without just cause, has now exploded into an irreversible downward slide in police effectiveness throughout the city.
Management has now decided not to dispatch an officer to investigate collisions with property damage or "minor" personal injury where a person is not immediately taken to hospital. It's not clear how to determine if an injury is minor. People unsure are advised to call dispatch, who will screen calls over the phone to determine if an officer is required. Essentially a telepathic diagnosis.
This means a further reduction in the basic principles of traffic enforcement and bad driving deterrence. There is not a glimmer of understanding that organized traffic enforcement not only reduces collisions but reveals who is driving and the company they keep.
In their zeal to free-up officers for other calls Toronto police have forgotten the vulnerability people feel at a traffic collision. It's a foreign world that once was made easier by the attendance of the asphalt referee; someone who brings order to the chaos and clears up a traffic snarl full of frustrated motorists. A well attended accident scene makes every officer shine, earning the admiration of motorists far better than fuzzy animals or cop cartoon characters in a hundred parades.
Top Toronto police managers are currently chasing a downward spiral into oblivion. Getting back to a proper sense of strategic traffic operations will solve a myriad of problems..