With the cost of paying Montreal police to direct traffic around construction sites nearly doubling in 2015 to $8 million, Projet Montréal called on the city administration Tuesday to use less costly civilian employees instead.
“There are a record number of construction sites in the city of Montreal, and therefore a record number of police officers who are managing traffic at these construction sites,” said Alex Norris, security critic for the opposition party.
“At Projet Montréal, we believe this is a monumental waste of money, resources and expertise.”
Police billed $4.4 million for traffic duty in 2014.
The party wants the city to renegotiate the police force’s collective agreement so police no longer have the exclusive contract to direct traffic. Officers in Montreal do traffic control on a volunteer basis on their off hours, and are paid overtime rates of roughly $62 an hour. Every day, between 60 and 250 police officers work at job sites. Other cities, like Vancouver, have civilian employees to do similar jobs for $22 to $26 an hour.
Using police officers as traffic cops is particularly troubling when the force is complaining of a lack of resources, Norris said. Last week, a leaked internal Montreal police memo showed management were advising officers to tell the victims of break-and-enters that police would not be able to visit their premises until days after the incident. In the meantime, victims should wear gloves around their homes to avoid tainting the crime scene.
“How can it be we are wasting resources on traffic at intersections when you can’t even respond to break-and-enter calls,” Norris said. He also said the city should be using better technology to synchronize traffic lights to ease congestion around construction sites.
Montreal Police Brotherhood spokesman Martin Desrochers said at present, there are no negotiations going on between police and the city. “Everything is being handled in the court system.” Police and the city are in a long-running, acrimonious dispute over changes to the force’s pension plan imposed by the city and government of Quebec. The union refuses to negotiate in public, Desrochers said.
Police unions have been resistant to losing the extra income derived from traffic detail that is popular with their members. In 2011, Toronto police rejected the suggestion of creating a separate traffic authority, as exists in Vancouver.
Anie Samson, the city’s executive committee member responsible for public security, said that shifting responsibilities for traffic detail to civilian employees, at least at less dangerous sites, has been a priority for the Coderre administration from the start. City officials and the union have been arguing aspects of the force’s collective agreement since February 2015, she said, but the union has refused to budge on the traffic detail issue. She confirmed that 2016 will be a record year for construction in Montreal, with about 400 different sites slated to be on the go this summer.
“What is blocking us now is the collective agreement,” Samson said. “Often we say it takes two to tango, but for us, the position is clear, it’s on the table. The brotherhood refuses it.”
The city and union will have to go into arbitration to resolve the issue, Samson said. She did not know how long that could take.