For-profit policing

The other day, I saw a person stop someone else on the street and say a very strange thing with the purpose of relaying a very strange message to this stranger: “You’d better walk your bike, there’s a cop.”

Normally, on Prince Arthur this wouldn’t be an issue.   The cobblestone street that is a pedestrian walkway between St-Laurent Boulevard and Carré St-Louis has seen its fair share of cyclists over the years and its fair share of police as well.

While you’re technically not allowed to ride a bike or drive a car on this street (except to exit or enter an underground parking garage), not all cyclists know this fact.   It is after all a street and a wide enough one with enough space for two-wheeled and two-footed (and even some four-footed) travelers to co-exist.   No one seems to mind if this small rule is broken and if a cop sees it, they usually just tell the offending cyclist to dismount, they do and all is good.

This is one of those small nuisance laws that up until recently wasn’t a big deal.   Kind of like crossing St-Laurent Boulevard or any other north-south one-way street in the middle of the block when traffic is stopped at a light to the south of you and the nearest cross-street cars could turn onto the main drag from is to your north.   Jaywalking?   Technically yes.   A problem ?   No, not really.

Unfortunately, things seem to have changed.   It started around when the story surfaced in the media of the $420 fine issued to Bela Kosoian, the 38-year-old student and mother of two, for not holding onto the rubber handrail while descending an escalator in a Laval metro station.   She was fumbling for change in her pocket and didn’t understand what the metro cops (Montreal police are the security in our metro system).

Next came the rumors that people were being fined for jaywalking downtown.   Then the story I heard of the woman getting a ticket because her little kid was riding her bike on the sidewalk en route to the bike path.   Now, there’s a cop on Prince Arthur out looking for cyclists to give tickets to.

This ticket anything approach to policing, while not officially announced as such, looks, sounds and smells like a cash grab by the city implemented through a quota system imposed on the police.   Yves Francoeur, the president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood even admitted to a quota system being in place when it comes to parking tickets.

This is the same person who was quoted as saying that “as police officers, repression is our job. We don’t need a community relations officer for a director, we need a general. Let’s keep in mind that the police force is, after all, a paramilitary body.”   This is also the same force that tried to make insulting a police officer a ticketable offense and sent in the riot squad to evict a squat before it officially opened under the pretext of just meeting to talk.

In light of this, the recent disclosure about the quota system and Francoeur’s opposition to it may be more of a PR move in a labour dispute than a genuine concern for citizens affected.   However, it still gives confirmation of what many people have suspected for a long time: that Montreal Police are being used to make money for city bureaucrats.

Don’t get me wrong, if some guy jaywalks during flowing rush hour traffic and risks causing an accident, I have no problem with him getting a ticket, just as I hope there are police to deal with murder, rape, theft, assault and other serious crimes.   When it comes to the small, inconsequential stuff, though, give me a break.

The cops serving the rich isn’t new, but actually generating profit for them takes it to a whole new level. Policing shouldn’t be about using all the laws available to make a buck for the city, just as city bureaucrats should realize that, at least in theory, the citizens are their bosses and not their clients.   At least, for the time being, we can rely on our fellow citizens to warn us against for-profit policing on the horizon like those people who warned the cyclists on Prince Arthur.

One comment

  • Une partie du problème de ce type de micro-répression existe du fait de l’existence d’un très grand nombre d’infractions mineures dans la réglementation mise en application par le SPVM.

    On réalise bien que les agents de police vont assez rarement servir des contraventions aux personnes qui, par exemple, traversent une tranquille petite rue de quartier, ou à quelqu’un qui se repose sur un banc public dans le Parc Lafontaine.

    Toujours reste-t-il que les agents de la paix ont dans les faits le pouvoir de servir une telle contravention et c’est là que le problème se situe. On ne peut se consoler en se disant que de telles règles sont rarement appliquées en raison de la tolérance des policiers.

    Tolérance implique discrétion policière dans leur répression. Du côté du citoyen, on arrive à en voir une discrétion policière complètement arbitraire.

    Tant que des règles peu appliquées mais qui laissent une discrétion seront en vigueur (voir: l’interdiction de flâner), il y aura une réelle dissonance en le mode de vie des citoyens (tous des contrevenants!) et ce que la loi peut imposer aux citoyens.

    Si ces micro-règles étaient appliquées de façon stricte par les forces policières, ça ne serait pas long qu’un très grand nombre de citoyens s’insurgent. En attendant, devant la tolérance des gentils policiers, gare au faucon qui dans sa faim plonge de temps à autre sur la petite souris citoyenne.

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