OFF THE WIRE
Units made turf battle top priority; traffic-offence cash down..
Fewer traffic scofflaws were busted by police last summer due to a brewing turf war between rival biker gangs.
On Monday, Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill told city council's finance committee the feud between the Rock Machine and the Hells Angels was part of the reason the police department expects to see a $1.4-million shortfall in traffic-ticket revenue this year. McCaskill said officers from the street-crime and community-support units -- who routinely issue tickets for speeding and traffic violations -- were told to make the gang war their No. 1 priority. In July, community-support officers knocked on 40 doors in the neighbourhood to alert residents they live near people linked to gangs after firebombing incidents targeted homes and businesses.
McCaskill said officers from the traffic unit also pitched in to help monitor parades on city streets. He said it's difficult to say whether the drop in enforcement affected road safety, but the department needed to juggle its resources to effectively tackle the gang war.
"Traffic enforcement was taking a back seat," he said.
The traffic-enforcement shortfall is one reason the city is currently on track to record a $3.6-million deficit by the end of the year, according to the most recent financial status report. The city's total traffic-enforcement revenue is expected to be short $4.2 million by the end of the year due to a reduction in red-light camera tickets and reduced resources for traffic-ticket enforcement.
Winnipeg is also $9.4 million over-budget on snow-clearing and spent $1 million over budget on additional fire-paramedic overtime and worker's compensation costs.
While the current deficit is actually $5.7 million, council finance chairman Scott Fielding (St. James) said the city plans to move a $2.2-million surplus from Winnipeg's insect control branch to cover part of the deficit. He said council still needs to approve the move.
Fielding expects the city will be able to cover off the remaining deficit for its $847.3-million operating budget before the end of the year, when final budget numbers are totalled.
McCaskill said officers started doing more traffic enforcement in October, and he wants to see the department continue to do more in the future.
Part of the problem, he said, is officers spend a great deal of time in court for hearings on traffic tickets. McCaskill said police are now exploring whether officers can be subpoenaed for traffic-related issues on their days off so they aren't taken off their beat to sit in court.
"They sit there in a lot of cases," he said.