City councillor Niels Konge is against the city acquiring a new ‘ghost car’ – an unmarked municipal enforcement vehicle – in the city’s fleet.
His objections came as council was reviewing a city memorandum Tuesday on whether to approve strategic priorities for the municipal enforcement division for 2020 and 2021 during Tuesday’s government priorities committee meeting.
Last year, council passed a bylaw enforcement policy that allows council to voice its priorities on municipal enforcement’s work plan based on its goals and needs of the community.
Council has had a longstanding history of doing the same for the Yellowknife RCMP when they put together work plans for service.
Konge grilled public safety director Eric Bussey about the ghost cars during a discussion on the visibility of police cars and road safety.
“I had a member of the public tell me a few weeks ago that ‘Oh, look, bylaw got another ghost car,'” said Konge.
“I said, ‘Oh,I didn’t know that we got a new ghost car.’ So I had to drive by city hall and take a look.
“Sure enough, we have a new MED vehicle that has no stickers on it. I don’t support our MED officers … having any vehicles that are not visible. I think if it’s truly about public safety, not about issuing tickets and that sort of thing then all of our vehicles should have lights on it. They should have stickers on the side. They should be advertised: this is our municipal enforcement.
“So I’m wondering, what opportunity does council get to have to weigh in on that because I don’t understand the ghost cars. It makes no sense to me in this municipality.”
Bussey argued ghost cars are necessary to avoid detection by speeders and other road rule breakers, especially in sensitive areas such as school zones.
The city plans to replace one of two ghost cars in its fleet.
“As I understand it, visibility is an important enforcement tool – i.e. vehicles that are not visible immediately as an enforcement vehicle,” he said.
“It is part of the fleet and that vehicle replaced a ghost car that was taken out of service. So it was just continuing a practice that has been place.”
Konge stated in an email that having the unmarked vehicles in the city fleet has been a longstanding concern for him.
“If our goal is truly public safety then why do we have to sneak around in ghost cars?” he stated. “The MED is not only responsible for road safety, they are in fact responsible for enforcement of all the city bylaws. Unsightly lands, tour busses in residential neighborhoods, parked on street for more than 72 hours were the three (priorities) that Mayor Alty mentioned, and I agree with, that could use more attention.”
Konge added that ensuring MED vehicles are marked would be a “good start” to showing “professionalism” to residents. He said any new vehicle should be marked with stickers, he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, councillors were presented with four recommendations from the city: “professionalism in enforcement” through responsive service delivery and public engagement; regular outreach, planning and co-ordination with partner agencies, such as the RCMP, to facilitate collaboration on enforcement areas of common interest; a continued presence in the downtown, on multi-use trails and at city recreation facilities and public events; and an emphasis on road safety.
He said he knew that a new car purchase was budgeted for this year, but said council doesn’t have a say on, “what extras they get with the car.”
Mayor Rebecca Alty said the issue around ghost cars has been discussed by council in the past and whether all municipal vehicles should have stickers on them.
“There’s pros and cons to both sides,” she said. “Having a ghost car means you do see an increase in the number of tickets issued, but does that stop somebody from doing that behavior in the future because they got a ticket versus if (it happened with) a stickered car. They’ll slow down and they won’t get a ticket, and maybe they won’t change their behavior and continue to speed. It’s it’s tough to say.”
Council agreed that the first priority of “professionalism in enforcement” already fits into the job description and should be scrapped from the list of priorities. A revised memorandum of priorities for the coming year is expected to be voted on at Monday’s regular council meeting, Alty said.