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U of T expert attributes ‘dozens of deaths’ to decline in Toronto police traffic ticketing

Nestor Duque remembers the way he felt about the level of police traffic enforcement when he arrived in Canada in 1972, and the difference now, as he mourns his sister’s longtime love.“When I arrived I was shocked. It felt like there was one police officer for every driver — I learned my lesson very quickly,” Duque says, not far from the spot on Kingston Road near Morningside Avenue, where his sister’s common-law partner, Miguel “Miguelito” Candia, 72, was fatally struck by a driver while crossing the road in August.“Now,” Duque says, “I don’t see the police. We have to do something to protect the people: more police, or technology, cameras. It was such a loss. Miguelito did everything — I mean everything — for my sister.” Duque’s sister is 78, has chronic illness and now lives alone. “When he didn’t answer her calls, she went looking for him and found the police and ambulance” at the site where she had to identify the crumpled body of the retired auto parts worker who had been at her side for 18 years.It was a terrible scene all too common in Toronto, especially in recent years. New data obtained from the Ministry of the Attorney General and released by the Star this week has revealed that Candia’s death and others happened as the number of tickets issued by Toronto police for day-to-day traffic offences, including speeding, plummeted.Tickets for moving violations have dropped by nearly two-thirds since 2013. Meanwhile, the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed has gone up nearly as dramatically. They include Erica Stark, a 42-year-old mother of three killed while walking on a sidewalk in 2014, and Gary Sim, a 70-year-old cyclist run over in 2017.University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman said the two facts — reduced enforcement and increased deaths — are no coincidence. While it stands to reason that a drop in enforcement might lead to more collisions and more deaths, Fisman said that well-established public health methods — the same ones used to uncover the toll of cigarette smoking in the 1960s — let anyone test that assumption, something he did this month using data from the Star.Fisman’s startling conclusion: the deaths of dozens of Torontonians, possibly many more, can be attributed to the decline in Toronto police enforcement of Highway Traffic Act (HTA) offences between 2009 and 2018, most of which came after 2013.“Post-2012, you get a profound increase in fatalities” on Toronto streets, said Fisman, head of epidemiology at the U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. At the same time “police-issued tickets dropped like a rock.”A Star analysis of ticket data shows Toronto drivers are far less likely to get a ticket for risky driving behaviours now than they were a decade ago. Toronto police issued roughly 234,000 fewer tickets last year than in 2009, a much steeper fall than for any other police service in the GTA.City data shows that collisions rose steadily in the past seven years, with 2018 marking the highest total since the early 2000s. Last year also saw the most pedestrians and cyclists killed in the city since at least 2005.A Toronto police report issued last month noted: “It has been well documented through numerous studies that enforcement is a key component to achieving a reduction in deaths and injuries caused through preventable collisions and poor driving behaviour.”Fisman said public health methods can’t definitively prove the enforcement change caused these extra deaths because there’s no way to compare the city to a hypothetical Toronto that kept issuing tickets at pre-2013 levels.They can say, however, that the available data strongly suggests the Toronto police decision to reduce traffic enforcement is associated with a significant rise in pedestrian deaths. “As an epidemiologist, while I can’t establish definitive causality, analyzing the data suggests the most likely cause for the increase (in deaths) was the decrease in enforcement — the number of tickets being issued,” Fisman said in an interview. “I can extrapolate from that at least dozens of deaths could have been prevented if enforcement had been kept at the 2012 levels,” he said. Fisman’s model finds a total of 142 pedestrian deaths can be attributed to the decline in HTA enforcement. But he acknowledges that given the limits of this type of analysis, and the possibility some other factor might explain a portion of those deaths, he is confident in saying “at least dozens.”Fisman’s other striking finding is that senior citizens are five times more likely to be killed on Toronto roads than the general population.“This is a crisis in elderly pedestrians,” he said. “You can’t safely be an elderly person in Toronto and cross the street without literally fearing for your life. To me that’s madness — that’s not the sort of society we’re supposed to be.”Twenty-five of the 38 pedestrians and cyclists killed on Toronto streets so far this year were over the age of 60. The most recent victim was a 66-year-old cyclist who died two weeks after she was hit by a right-turning driver at a Scarborough intersection last month. Seniors make up a majority of pedestrians and cyclists killed in Toronto in the last 10 years, a rate that far exceeds the over-60 share of the population as a whole.The city’s Vision Zero road safety plan includes programs aimed at vulnerable road users, such as seniors and people with mobility issues.In response to Fisman’s analysis, Toronto police said they are deeply committed to public safety and law enforcement. They noted the analysis doesn’t prove a causal link between deaths and enforcement and pointed to other potential factors, such as traffic congestion. A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory, meanwhile, said Tory has championed a number of pedestrian safety measures and pushed hard to implement photo radar.Safety advocates who have for years pushed Toronto to be more aggressive in protecting pedestrians and cyclists, lobbying for changes including redesigned roads — a top priority — tougher laws and more aggressive traffic enforcement, are shocked by Fisman’s findings.“Since the (decline in enforcement) came to light, we’ve been struggling with how to put into words what this feels like — to have it be confirmed that (our) loved ones’ deaths, and our life-changing injuries, were even more preventable than we were thinking,” said Jessica Spieker of Friends and Families for Safe Streets. Spieker, a cyclist, suffered a broken spine and brain injuries when a motorist hit her in 2015. Her group’s founders include David Stark, whose wife, Erica, was hit and killed by a driver.“After going through all the grief and pain that we have, to have to now grapple with the fact that had the police budget not been cut, and had the enforcement not dropped off, that some of our loved ones would still be alive …” Spieker said, her voice trailing off. “Also, that some of us who survived would be still be living normal, uninterrupted lives — that’s really painful. That’s agony.”Councillor Joe Cressy, chair of Toronto’s public health board, said road design and enforcement of traffic laws “directly contribute to the safety or danger of our streets.“It is fair to say the longer it takes us to redesign our roads and enforce the new rules of them, the more people will get hurt … Like many Torontonians, I was disappointed and surprised to learn that Toronto Police Service had not been maintaining the level of enforcement that I had been led to believe they were.”Chief Mark Saunders, promoted to the top rank in 2015, and Tory, first elected mayor in 2014, had long rebuffed calls for increased enforcement, citing the promise of red-light cameras and coming photo radar along with periodic traffic blitzes. Safety advocates expressed anger when a report from Saunders to the police board last month revealed Toronto “does not currently have a complement of officers that are solely dedicated to enforcement duties on a daily basis,” and that the traffic services unit is primarily focused on post-crash investigations. The same report recommended the formation of a new traffic enforcement unit, with two shifts per weekday, each with three officers and a supervisor. The recommendation was accepted by Tory and fellow police services board members, meaning the new unit should be operating soon.Alok Mukherjee was chair of that board in 2013 when a larger traffic enforcement unit, called Strategic Traffic Enforcement Measures (STEM) — which Saunders’s report credits with changing Toronto drivers’ behaviour — was disbanded.In an interview, Mukherjee said he does not remember hearing of the STEM team. He does recall the police service and other city agencies facing demands from then mayor Rob Ford in 2011 to reduce costs, and a response from then chief Bill Blair including a revamp of traffic services.Blair’s plan included a goal of reducing “road-related injuries” to pedestrians and cyclists with strategies such as increased pedestrian education and enhancing officer awareness of “the correlation between strategic enforcement and collision and injury reduction.”Police divisions were to “establish annual unit-specific traffic priorities and strategies based on community direction received and collision analysis.”Mukherjee said he was shocked to learn recently day-to-day traffic enforcement had effectively stopped, although he has noticed increasingly aggressive and dangerous drivers.“Whether (police) were doing dedicated enforcement as a team or not, my understanding was that if enforcement was part of divisional management, then divisional officers were patrolling and using their time and their presence on the street to deal with traffic,” he said.Both Blair and Saunders assured the civilian oversight board that technology would fill the traffic enforcement gap and help maintain safety, Mukherjee said.“The service had fewer officers to deal with priority calls but traffic enforcement was not treated as a priority, as we now know. It was like putting the cart before the horse,” he said of waiting for photo radar, which Blair proposed in 2013 in part to help raise revenues.But Ford and then transportation minister Bob Chiarelli slammed the brakes on photo radar. Tory renewed calls for it in 2016 and only recently got provincial permission to use the cameras to automatically catch speeders in school and community safety zones. Toronto did get red-light cameras and continues to add more as part of Vision Zero.Blair was also “quite persuasive,” Mukherjee said, in saying more warnings, rather than tickets, would be effective in changing driver behaviour because officers would talk to drivers about the risks of aggressive driving, and that might account for some of the ticket drop.The service gained the ability to track warnings after a new electronic ticketing system was introduced in 2014, Toronto police traffic services Supt. Scott Baptist said in an email, noting that a warning allows officers to take an “incremental approach to enforcement. “The primary role of the police in Vision Zero is enforcement and education. The issuance of warnings provides an opportunity for officers to use both strategies simultaneously,” he said.Police records show the service issued nearly 100,000 warnings in 2015. That number fell to fewer than 50,000 last year. Mukherjee calls reducing the number of tickets issued without technology a “misjudgment.”“As operational head of the organization, Chief Saunders had, I think, a responsibility to say to the board, ‘These will be the consequences if you move in the way you are moving. We need to make changes in a more planned, systematic way.’ It is the chief’s job, not the board’s job.“Given the … cumulative, increasing loss of life, this should be a high priority.”A spokesperson for Blair, now the Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest and federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, referred questions for this story to Toronto police. The Star’s questions to Saunders were answered in a statement from Deputy Chief Peter Yuen with a note that Saunders was travelling.“Public safety is of paramount importance to the Toronto Police Service and our officers work every day to protect the people of Toronto and enforce the law,” Yuen wrote, noting that Fisman said he can’t establish a definitive causal link between enforcement levels and pedestrian deaths.Yuen said that, in addition to officers with the 127-member traffic services unit, “all front-line officers enforce traffic in Toronto every day.” “The service conducts traffic education and enforcement and both are necessary to improve roadway safety for all users,” Yuen wrote. “Roadway safety must be a collective effort. Environment roadways are not static and the increasing complexity of the roadways must be considered.”Yuen cited factors including population growth, traffic congestion, road design and “distracted, aggressive driving.”He also said “enforcement is broad and cannot be measured by the issuing of tickets alone. It includes vehicle stops, discussions with stopped motorists and other roadway users, formal and informal warnings, and the use of radar speed boards,” noting police conduct traffic campaigns and “enforcement surges” that can change risky behaviours but do not see tickets issued.Police are committed to Vision Zero and will work with the city to reduce fatal and serious collisions, he said.In response to questions about the drop in enforcement and rise in pedestrian fatalities, Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat emailed a statement saying the mayor has led the city in implementing Vision Zero, and a new incarnation of the plan that includes lowered speed limits, more red-light cameras, and photo radar, which should be on streets soon.“We recognize the need for traffic enforcement to help reduce collisions,” Peat wrote, noting Tory backed the creation of a new unit dedicated to full-time traffic enforcement and persuaded fellow police board members to ensure it is permanent.“Due to the mayor’s relentless advocacy over almost four years, we now have the ability to deploy automated speed enforcement for the first time in the entire province since the early 1990s. This will save lives,” Peat wrote, adding elimination of the STEM team happened before Tory was mayor.“During his time on the police services board, the mayor has worked to modernize the police service so that officers can be dedicated to front-line policing and proactive enforcement work.”Andy Pringle, who joined the police services board in 2011 and chaired it from 2015 until earlier this year, declined to comment.For Fisman, there is one indisputable conclusion from the data about traffic enforcement and pedestrian deaths on Toronto streets.“This points in a pretty clear direction — you’ve got to slow people down.”For Duque, 74, something else remains clear. As a Scarborough senior citizen who often has to cross Kingston Road near where his good friend died, he could be next.“People drive like it’s a highway,” he said. “It’s dangerous. I’m freaked out every time.”How the analysis was conductedU of T epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman said he used a method well known in public health research to reach the conclusion that dozens of Toronto pedestrian deaths, and possibly many more, could be associated with the police reduction in traffic enforcement.First, he used “Poisson regression” modelling to find and compare the trends in the monthly records of tickets, taken from the Star’s database, and in traffic deaths and collisions, both taken from police data. After adjusting for long-term and seasonal changes, he then analyzed those trends to find the “relative risk” of death as traffic enforcement went up and down.Next, he did calculations to find what fraction of the outcome (deaths) might be a result of that exposure (the decline in tickets), given that pedestrian and other traffic deaths did happen even as tickets were at their highest levels in 2010.If you do the same math with the Toronto data, Fisman said the decline in tickets accounts for about 40 per cent of pedestrians’ “attributable risk.” Put another way: the model says two in five pedestrian deaths between 2009 and 2018 would not have happened without that decline.The model includes tickets from the city’s red-light cameras, which rose sharply after 2016 and, in fact, have surpassed Toronto police’s HTA citations in recent years.It found that monthly fluctuations in red-light camera tickets had the same effect as police-issued tickets — they both reduced risk of death. That finding, Fisman said, reinforces that the model was not simply linking a coincidental fall in tickets and rise in deaths starting in 2013.At the Star’s request, Fisman also reran his model including “auto-correlation,” a method that uses a previous month’s tally of deaths to predict the next month’s tally. The impact of tickets in reducing deaths did not change.All told, Fisman’s model finds a total of 142 pedestrian deaths can be attributed to the decline in HTA enforcement.That said, he cautions that he can’t rule out the possibility that some unforeseen factor might be affecting the model.What that “confounder” might be is hard to tell — it’s difficult to measure, let alone model, the impact of more traffic and pedestrians, or larger SUVs, or the rise of smartphones or ear buds — but, Fisman said, one takeaway is that it would have to be “a really big effect” to account for the significant impact the model found from the fall in ticketing.Interested in replicating Fisman’s work? A selection of the data the Star gave him can be found at this link. Fisman’s study used these records and this Toronto police database of collisions causing serious injuries and deaths. Correction (Dec. 11): This article has been corrected from a previous version that misspelled Jessica Spieker’s surname. It also misstated the year Andy Pringle took over as chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. Ed Tubb is an assignment editor and a contributor focused on crime and justice. He is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @edtubbDavid Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

11th, December 2019, 07:23pm

Kawhi Leonard finally gets his ring — and lots of love from Raptors and their fans

The always stoic Kawhi Leonard hugged old teammates and ex-coaches, smiled with all his friends and raised his arms to the sky as a way of acknowledging the love from about 20,000 fans.The emotion on the night that Leonard got his ring commemorating the Raptors’ 2019 NBA championship was real and genuine.After a nearly two-minute long video detailing his exploits in his one season in Toronto, Leonard got his ring from former teammate Kyle Lowry after a long series of hugs and handshakes with teammates, coaches, senior management and part owner Larry Tanenbaum before he and the Los Angeles Clippers played the Raptors on Wednesday.The love-in for Leonard began about 20 minutes before tipoff to the game when he got a small standing ovation just running onto the court for the pre-game warmup and a much louder cheer when he was shown on the scoreboard’s video screen as he ran layups.Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he was going to soak in the emotional event.“It’s always great to see guys get a ring, especially when they’re on your team now,” he said before the game. “This is a different one, though. It’s a really cool one because he was the leader of the group, coming back to get it in front of a crowd. I’ve never experienced it like this.”Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps

11th, December 2019, 07:21pm

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