Positive Tickets

Positive Tickets

Think of the last time you were pulled over by the police. Did you wonder to yourself: “Is this going to be a positive ticket or a negative one?” Not likely. Because wherever you are in the world we know that tickets are negative, right?  Yet at least one innovative police precinct in Canada thinks this is an assumption that ought to be challenged.

For years, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment in Richmond, Canada ran like any other law enforcement bureaucracy and experienced the same results: recidivism rates, or repeat offenders by another name, ran at 65% and they were experiencing spiraling rates of youth crime. As one concrete example, Street Racing had become common practice and the police had come to expect approximately four deaths a year.

There is a well-established, best-practice approach to cracking down on crime: pass new and harsher laws, set stronger sentencing or initiate zero tolerance initiatives to let the criminals know we mean business. In other words, do more of the same energetically.

Yet, this forward thinking Canadian detachment, led by a young, new superintendent, Ward Clapham, challenged the core assumptions of the policing system itself. Why does all of our policing efforts have to be reactive, negative and after the fact? What if instead of just focusing on catching criminals police devoted significant efforts on eliminating criminal behavior before it happens? To quote one Tony Blair’s best ideas, they wanted to be tough on crime but also tough on the causes of crime.

To this end, they experimented with Positive Tickets. The focus was to catch youth doing the right things and give them a ticket for positive behavior. The ticket itself would grant the recipient with free entry to the movies or to a local youth center. Since then they have given out an average of 40,000 tickets a year. Three times the number of negative tickets over the same period.

As it turns out, that ratio (2.9 positive affects to 1 negative affect to be precise) is called the Losada Line. It is the minimum ratio of positive to negatives that has to exist for a person or team to flourish. On higher performing teams (and marriages for that matter) the ratio jumps to 5:1. But does it hold true in policing?

What was the impact of Richmond’s effort to reimagine policing? Recidivism was reduced from 65% to 5%. In other words, they had a 95% success rate, and it only cost the tax payer one-tenth the amount when compared to the traditional Justice System. In the last eight years there hasn’t been a single Street Racing fatality. Overall, youth crime was cut in half.

Policing isn’t always synonymous with innovation, but Ward’s team thinks that everyone from policy makers to managers could benefit from Positive Ticket thinking. The next time we’re pulled over we are sure to agree.

4 thoughts on “Positive Tickets

  1. David Richards says:

    The exponential impact of positive reinforcement. What a great application of this. Imagine the impact on communities if the youth felt a sense of excitement while passing a cop and thought “maybe they’ll notice my proper behavior, and I’ll be rewarded.” I can only think of the great returns to tax payers dollars. Those positive tickets not only lowered the cost to taxpayers, but went back into the community. Very sustainable model, I love it.

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