Jeff Ward: Patchland! Rise Up and Throw Off Those Red-Light-Camera Shackles!
George Orwell was right!
All that whooping and hollering you just heard was me! I couldn’t help but get a little excited over Houston, TX, removing every last one of its 70 red-light cameras.
Despite a despicable legal attack and being outspent 10-to-1, a citizen’s group started by two brothers got the removal measure on the ballot and then prevailed. Not one to admit defeat, the camera company tried a last-ditch legal end run and, when the city council wouldn’t buckle, sued Houston for $25 million.
It’s all about safety, isn’t it!
That second round of loud applause you heard was also me. After calling every single West Suburban Patch police department, I was astonished to find that only four cities—Geneva, St. Charles, Lisle and Western Springs—employ the heinous devices.
Obviously, there’s a direct correlation between Patch news outlets and smart police chiefs.
And no, I haven’t! The fricken’ first question pro-camera police chiefs always ask me is, “Where did you get your red-light ticket?” I’ve had just one moving violation in the last 30 years, so this has nothing to do with getting even.
“Well then, Jeff! What is about red light cameras that sets you off more than fire pits and toll hikes?” I’m glad you asked!
1. They’re unconstitutional. Despite the fact those cameras take pictures of the vehicle and not the driver, it’s the registered owner that gets the ticket. Call me crazy, but I don’t remember “guilty until proven innocent” anywhere in the Constitution. So you either pay the fine or rat out the driver.
Next time it happens, I’d bill the city officials for doing their police work for them.
Then there’s the interesting “due process” interpretation. Typically, fighting a red-light ticket means going before the very police department that issued it! No conflict of interest there! And if you do fight the ticket and lose, in some cities, you pay double the fine. Silly me! I thought extortion was illegal.
And finally, I thought we called any private company that profited from a crime “the mob.”
2. They don’t make us safer. Los Angeles just shut down their cameras because, as their police commission put it, “they don’t make traffic safer.”
In this Aug. 2010 story, The Western Springs Police Department bragged about how well their new cameras were working. But in Dec. 2010, they released new data that showed accidents at the photo-enforced intersections of Ogden Avenue and Wolf Road and 55th Street and Wolf had actually increased by 190 percent!
In their 2010 annual report, the WSPD touted a 10 percent villagewide reduction in car crashes, but then claimed a jump from 11 to 21 accidents at those two intersections wasn’t statistically significant. Take if from this psych major who had to take three statistics courses, it is.
If these cameras really made us drive more safely, the companies that profit from them would already be out of business.
3. It’s a tax. Maybe those Western Springs cameras aren’t working out so well, because 95 percent of the tickets they issue are for right-on-red violations, despite the fact the sloppiest of right-on-red turns rarely cause an accident.
That’s right! In general, two-thirds of all suburban red-light-camera tickets go to right-on-red violators, most for failing to come to a complete stop. This has nothing to do with safety, it’s just another tax.
4. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Should you fight your red-light ticket, as previously mentioned, you don’t get to go before a judge who has no dog in the fight, you plead your case in front of a police department or municipal hearing officer who’s paid by the very municipality that stands to benefit from the fine.
Do I really need to explain the inherent problems with that “undue” process?
Ironically, Western Springs actually loses money on its camera installations which, when you consider the previous statistics, makes me wonder why they’re still there.
5. Shameless camera company shenanigans. Here’s what I want you to do. Go to the Illinois State Board of Elections website and type “Redspeed” at the donor name prompt. Then click on “search.” You’ll see that Redspeed, the culprit behind most of our local cameras, has contributed $87,000 to Illinois politicians since 2008.
And remember, that doesn’t include lobbyists, their campaigns against mayors who dare to take ‘em down, or the police chief beer picnics these companies love to host.
But all is not lost, folks! Like our rebellious Houstonians, we too can fight back. When the cameras were introduced in Bolingbrook, the backlash was so intense they took ‘em down after six short months. It’s amazing how quickly things change when you threaten to vote the rascals out of office.
When the camera at Meachem and Woodfield Roads generated $1 million in right-on-red fines in just two months, so many shoppers threatened to boycott Woodfield Mall that Schaumburg quickly abandoned it. It seems that one camera-happy city finally grasped the notion that you can’t get a right-on-red ticket shopping online.
So, for Elmhurst, Wheaton, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Burr Ridge, Glen Ellyn and Batavia, I’m officially designating Monday as “Hug your City Council Rep and Police Chief Day.” Please try not to get tasered.
I’ll let St. Charles off the hook to some degree because, at least for now, they won’t write a right-on-red ticket unless it’s utterly egregious. But the sad thing for cities like Geneva, Lisle and Western Springs is, every time you issue a camera citation, for all of the reasons I’ve already listed, you’re destroying the faith we’d all love to have in our law-enforcement agencies.
And once that trust is gone, you’ll never get it back.