Changing the way officers deliver tickets to the public
Let’s face it; even for the most experienced officer, the process of writing someone a ticket can instill a certain degree of stress. There is always that looming uncertainty as to whether the would-be defendant may go ‘off-side’ at any moment.
I was recently posed the following question by a newly conferred officer: “Do you have any tips that may lend for the best chance of an amicable interaction (while writing someone a ticket)? Or do you have any tips as to how I can create a smoother process when writing someone a ticket?”
Admittedly, I can ‘guesstimate’ that 9.5 times out of 10 (in the field), I would personally be met with a handshake and a “thank you” upon issuing someone a form of Provincial Process (i.e. a ticket or a summons). Now, I most certainly wasn’t being thanked for the ticket, but rather, I was being thanked for the way in which I dealt with the interaction itself.
The following are my own personal top tips for writing someone a ticket.
1. Don’t call it a “ticket”
We can all agree that there is an automatically triggered ‘alarm bell’ associated with the word ‘ticket’ – especially when it is in correlation with finding out you are receiving one. There is the very real plausibility that a person will almost immediately start to go ‘off-side’, once you reference the word ‘ticket’. Even more, there is something to be said about the actual verbiage: “I will be writing you a ticket”. The word ‘writing’ somewhat personalizes the encounter, and can lend to the personalization of the process itself. As such, the would-be defendant may now direct their hostility solely at you (the officer) as opposed to the process in its totality.
If we shouldn’t say, “I will be writing you a ticket”, what would be a better alternative?? I have found that the following verbiage lends to a more stream-line process (with less chance to be met with immediate outbursts): “Sir/madam, today you will be issued a Provincial Offences Notice.”
Now, let’s break this down for your further understanding and consideration. By eliminating the words “I will be writing”, we remove the already referenced perceived personalization of the process, or what the would-be defendant may otherwise interpret as such. By utilizing the verbiage “you will be issued”, we shift the focus on to the would-be defendant, as a directly correlated consequence of their conduct un-becoming. The word “issued” lends to the idea that the Provincial Offences Notice (in question) is an already existing entity, and helps negate the idea that the officer will have to particularize the respective interaction (and document it as such by “filling in” the Provincial Offences Notice accordingly). In other words, the verbiage of “issued” will better envisage the idea that the Provincial Offences Notice is merely an entity that is either issued or not issued – dependent upon the appropriating circumstances. Most importantly, by replacing the word “ticket” with the terminology “Provincial Offences Notice”, the would-be defendant presumably will take an extra two to three seconds, so as to process exactly what this means. It is this respective two to three seconds of which is crucial to the process—specifically leading us to the (next) consideration.
2. Explain the totality of the situation
As a former Provincial Offences Prosecutor, I can’t tell you how many times I would be met at Early Resolution meetings by defendants of whom thought they were facing serious criminal charges. More specifically, I would regularly hear perceived inclinations of “not being able to apply for jobs” for reasons of not passing criminal background checks, and insinuations of “not being able to cross the border to go on vacation”. It was most often the case that the defendant merely received a Trespass to Property Act-related ticket, and there were no further consequences associated with their predicament other than a monetary penalty.
With the above paragraph in mind, the idea of impending grave consequences is sometimes enough for a would-be defendant to become aggressive, agitated or even assaultive. As such, it is important to utilize the two to three seconds referenced above, so as to begin communicating the totality of the respective circumstances to the would-be defendant. This could include (but is not limited to): advise the would-be defendant that there are no impending demerit points and that their insurance rates will not be affected (in the case of non-driving related offences); advise the would-be defendant that they are not alleged to have committed a criminal offence, and (as such) there is no impending criminal record associated with the matter; advise the would-be defendant that, further than any plausible monetary penalty, there are no further consequences associated with the matter (as applicable).
By effectively communicating the above considerations, it will lend to alleviating any stressors that that the would-be defendant may be experiencing. More so, it may be that this person has never received a ticket before, let alone ever be engaged in an investigative capacity by a uniformed officer. By explaining the totality of the circumstances, it will assist in gaining compliance and cooperation throughout the entire respective process.
3. Don’t leave them guessing
If ever there was the chance for someone to instantaneously become irate, it’s when an officer obtains identification from the would-be defendant, takes out their ticket book and begins to fill-in a Provincial Offence Notice. In this circumstance, silence is certainly not “golden”!
I can’t stress how invaluable it is to fluidly communicate with the would-be defendant throughout the entire investigative interaction and inevitable process of issuing them a Provincial charge. More specifically, ensuring to communicate in a manner that would not leave one guessing as to why something (procedurally) is being facilitated. Or a clear articulation as to the alleged offence of which the would-be defendant is being investigated for (and charged with).
From the onset of the actual investigation itself, the officer should advise of the steps they are taking (as they occur) and further advise of the rationale behind each step. The officer should be providing information that will avoid the possibility of the would-be defendant becoming irked, having to guess, or presuming the worst throughout the process.
4. The fine is your friend
One of the most dreaded moments while issuing a Provincial Offences Notice is when the person poses the question “how much is this ticket going to cost me?”. This question demonstrates that the would-be defendant most certainly understands what is happening, and that they are about to be the recipient of a ticket. But, dependent upon the answer to the above noted question (i.e. the amount of the associated set fine), there exists a real possibility for the would-be defendant to become ‘ramped-up’.
The idea of an associated monetary penalty can work in the favour of the officer and be utilized as a means to gain both cooperation and compliance.
As opposed to providing an actual dollar amount, it is a consideration to simply state “I’m not sure” as a response to any inquiries made about the respective associated set fine. However, this “I’m not sure” must be in accompaniment of the following sentiment: “You have been cooperative with me so far, which I greatly appreciate. So, I’m going to see if there is perhaps a lesser offence and/or fine that I can issue the Provincial Offence Notice for. I just need a few moments, and I will be certain to explain everything in full to you – and afford for you to ask any questions you may have.”
Admittedly, this diatribe may seem deceitful to some that read it. It could very well be that there are no lesser considerations that would exist in the circumstances. However, the verbiage noted above can greatly assist in gaining compliance from the would-be defendant, while you are filling in the particulars of the Provincial Offence Notice. They may adapt the mindset that, if they display a cooperative and patient demeanour, you may elect for a lesser offence and set fine.
In preparation for a worst-case-scenario, should the would-be defendant be insistent as to just how much the penalty is, you—as the officer—will want to be certain that you reference the “total payable” in a manner that indicates it is “not written in stone”, and echo the sentiment that, by electing an option of Early Resolution, there may very well be the possibility of the Prosecutor lowering the fine. Be certain not to make any promises or guarantees as to any predicted outcome.
5. “Have a nice day”
Never more will the possibility exist for an amicable interaction to go south than telling someone to “have a nice day” after you issue them a ticket. It just seems condescending and isn’t all that appropriate in the circumstances.
Now, an officer is more-than-likely merely trying to be polite by telling someone to have a nice day after having commenced a proceeding (i.e. laying a charge). However, there are certainly some better options for parting words that will satisfactorily end an interaction, further ensuring not to rub salt in any wounds.
I have always found the sentiment “have a safe day” to be met positively. It tends to be a much more applicable option for a number of reasons. However, you may decide on your own alternative verbiage that lends to an element of patronage and neutrality. Regardless, the parting words certainly should not be reflective of any such notion that could be misinterpreted as spiteful.
I certainly hope my personal top tips for writing a ticket have proven to be insightful, beneficial and, most importantly, useful! I will echo that the above noted “tips” are simply ideas that I have found assisted me in the field. Regardless, always be sure to follow the direction of your supervisor, manager or agency.
Brian Lass is currently Sergeant Special Constable with the Toronto Community Housing, Community Safety Unit, in the role of Program Supervisor, Court Administration & Municipal Code Enforcement. Lass is formerly Provincial Prosecutor with GO Transit/Metrolinx (a Crown Agency of the Province of Ontario) and is still a Licensed Paralegal with the Law Society of Ontario.
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