Kentville Police Chief Mark Mander, chairman of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs drug abuse committee, says a proposal at the discussion phase could result in police being able to write tickets for relatively minor offences instead of laying criminal charges. – Kirk Starratt, www.kingscountynews.ca
Writing a ticket for a minor offence instead of laying a criminal charge could save the justice system a lot of time and money, says Kentville police chief Mark Mander.
Discussions between the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs and the federal government about reigning-in rising policing costs has resulted in a proposal that could help free-up court resources and keep police on the street instead of in the witness box.
Mander, chairman of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs drug abuse committee, said the plan is only at the discussion stage now. However, it builds on a resolution put forth by his committee this past summer that was passed by the association.
That resolution would see changes made to allow police to issue a ticket under the Contraventions Act for people caught in possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis marijuana. Mander said Justice Minister Peter MacKay has agreed to explore the possibility.
“From an economics of policing and public safety perspective, should we be looking at other minor offences that could be dealt with through a summary offence ticket instead of going to court?” Mander said. “It’s another tool in the tool belt for police.”
Under this scenario, police still want to have discretion to lay criminal charges, he said. However, ticketing for minor offences gives police an option to give an immediate consequence for a person’s actions. He points out that police are not interested in the ticket option from a revenue perspective; rather, it would be a cost-saving measure.
Police officers are spending a lot of time in court testifying in cases involving relatively minor crimes. These matters can drag on for over a year in some instances. For example, Mander recently had two officers in court all day waiting to testify. This is a human resources drain if the officers are scheduled for a shift and a significant cost to the police department if they have to pay officers overtime to sit through court.
“All these cases are clogging up the system,” Mander said.
He wonders what relatively minor court matters are costing the rest of the justice system. Mander believes we have to look for efficiencies across the system that could save tax dollars.
“We’re a 24-hour system trying to plug into an eight-hour, nine-to-five system,” Mander said of police and the courts. “I’m not saying we want night court, but we have to look at everything.”
The accused would still be able to fight a summary offence ticket, enter a not guilty plea and take the matter to trial, but this would give them the option to avoid court.
The first major hurdle would be getting all stakeholders in the justice system together to define what offences would be considered “minor.” Mander said a person charged with causing a disturbance because of a noisy party, for example, would get the message through a ticket.
Mander added that revenue generated from marijuana possession fines could be used to fund preventative measures such as education initiatives and treatment programs.