Article in the Toronto Star. Same old same old although the article reveals the cop was using a Laser Atlanta gun.
Const. Shane Stevenson peers through the viewfinder of his Atlanta Speed Laser radar gun, narrows his gaze on a black sports car barrelling along Islington Ave. toward him and gently squeezes the trigger.
He steps onto the street and points at the driver to pull over.
The car whizzes by. Stevenson is certain that he and the driver have made eye contact. But she keeps going. Spotting a red light ahead, certain he can catch her, he jumps into his cruiser and gives chase.
The driver pulls over, some 300 metres down the road. She's about to have a very bad day.
For Stevenson, part of an elite team of Toronto officers with the Strategic Traffic Enforcement Measures, ruining people's days is all in a day's work.
Since its formation in 2003, STEM members have been Toronto's chief ticket writers. Their aim is to get bad drivers off the road by nabbing them under the Highway Traffic Act.
The team has 10 full-time officers but you'd never guess it from the number of tickets they handed out last year — 43,590, about one eighth of the 376,819 tickets written up by the Toronto Police Service in 2004.
Judging from two days the Toronto Star spent on a ride-along, that figure would have been higher if police were capable of writing up everyone whizzing past, refusing to buckle in and driving in the wrong lane.
While those offences are the most common, STEM officers have seen it all: drivers reading the newspaper, applying makeup, even brushing their teeth.
As for excuses, they've heard them all. Bathroom emergencies are common defences for speeding, but don't expect relief. STEM officers have followed drivers to washrooms, issuing tickets when their business was finished. On average, each STEM officer issues about 25 tickets per shift, but 100 a day is not unheard of. Sgt. Bev Logan, one of the supervisors of the program, insists there is no quota. Quotas would be "too limiting."
Success, Logan says, is measured by the fact drivers are slowing down in trouble spots. "The speed in areas where we're routinely stationed, which people refer to as fishing holes, have reduced considerably," she says.
Typically, STEM rotates throughout the city and each day blitzes neighbourhoods in a different police division. The officers complement each division's in-house traffic unit, and use collision data to decide where to patrol. Enforcement is focused in high-risk areas, such as school zones, high collision spots and areas where speeding is a problem.
They're all business, and breaks are few and far between.
"We have provincial guidelines to follow," says Const. Andrew Ouellet, explaining that drivers looking for lenience will have to go elsewhere. "If the court wants to drop the fine, so be it."
It's a sentiment echoed by Stevenson and his partner, Const. Jim Wallace, one morning while stationed on Islington Ave. near Golfdown Dr., just north of Highway 401.
"I don't pick and choose who I make a deal for. I make it fair for everyone," says Stevenson, moments before pulling over a taxi for doing 67 km/h in the 50 km/h zone.
STEM officers spend about one quarter of their time in court. "I'd say people are convicted on 99 per cent of my tickets," Stevenson says. While these officers say they seldom miss their scheduled days in court, a Star investigation has shown Toronto has one of the highest rates in the province of tickets being withdrawn at trial. A leading reason is officers not showing up in court. Police Chief Bill Blair has acknowledged that 63 per cent of Toronto police scheduled for court duty don't show up.
Wallace, a 24-year veteran, is well acquainted with the intricacies of traffic court — guilty pleas rewarded with lesser charges, justices of the peace withdrawing charges to spare a backlogged system, and deal-making between prosecutors and ticket agents.
Sometimes he walks out of Old City Hall courthouse shaking his head in disbelief.
"I'm big on seeing the right thing done," says Wallace, a day after attending night court only to have two cases withdrawn because time ran out. Rather than adjourn them, the justice of the peace opted to withdraw the charges — standard practice in the overcrowded system.
"It downplays the importance of what we do," he says.
Soon after, the black sports car barrels down Islington and through the crosswalk.
After Stevenson has given chase , the driver steps out of her car. Despite being clocked at 68 clicks, she appears surprised.
As she searches for her driver's licence, insurance and ownership, Stevenson pulls out his notebook. He records her speed, road conditions, sign visibility, weather and what lane she was travelling in — information he'll need if the case goes to trial.
The driver doesn't have the car's ownership. Back at his cruiser, Stevenson learns she cancelled her insurance policy in 2004. He runs a check on her driving record and finds three convictions in the past three years, including one for driving without insurance in 2003.
When Stevenson is through, the driver will have a $60 speeding ticket, a $110 ticket for failing to surrender proof of ownership, a $5,000 ticket for driving without insurance and a ticket for failing to stop, which carries a fine between $1,000 to $5,000 and automatic licence suspension for up to a year.
Without insurance, she can't drive her car. It will have to be towed to Mississauga.
She and her two passengers will have to find other transportation.
The speeder vows to fight the tickets in court.
"This really stinks," she says. "Bad way to start the day."