Denton’s red light cameras: safety measure or policing for profit? (TX)

Is the use of red light cameras to issue traffic citations truly a safety measure or another example of policing for profit?  Though safety is the sales pitch used by companies like Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., the justification and the justifier become problematic as statistics don’t necessarily support the former while allegations of corrupt business practices and unethical government relationships surround the latter. With that backdrop, skeptical Denton residents can reasonably wonder if the cameras are indeed protection or profiteering.

Free Denton, a website founded “to fight the corrupt practice of Red Light Camera ticketing in Denton, Texas,” notes how the city of 117,000 has issued more than 50,000 red light tickets since the program’s 2005 start. Citing six cameras initially with three more added in 2011, the nine cameras reportedly issued more than 16,000 citations in 2013.

A recent post entitled Why Fight Safety? discusses Denton’s safety stance:

Many people have heard the industry arguments that these cameras are all about safety. Lobbyists and industry “experts” have been selling that line for years.

Studies cited by camera companies and greedy city officials all say these cameras reduce accidents. But why has Denton seen an increase at the two intersections which we have pre-camera and post camera data for. At 380 and Mayhill, accidents have nearly doubled. At 377 and I35, they’ve gone up by around 50%.

Turns out, many of those studies are flawed and inadequate.

A 2004 study by the Urban Transit Institute concluded that there was, if anything, an increase in accidents at intersections with these cameras. This study provided a more rigorous look at a larger data set and included things such as weather and traffic volume.

The pro-camera studies are surface investigations at best, and generally use very small datasets without rigorous evaluation of that data. External factors are generally ignored and extremely basic methodology is employed. They are written to sell cameras, not provide useful, scientific information.

But now that the camera companies have gotten their way and peddled their products across the nation, the truth is unavoidable. These devices are dangerous.

These devices indeed appear to be losing favor.

In February, The Washington Post published an article discussing a new round of attention red light cameras are getting within state legislatures. Per the article, though 24 states and the District of Columbia allow cameras that catch red light violators while 14 states and the District use photo radar to catch speeders, some states are reconsidering their use:

On Wednesday, the South Dakota state House passed a bill that would ban both red-light cameras and speeding cameras by a whopping 69-1 margin. A Missouri state House panel on Monday heard testimony on a similar bill. The Iowa Department of Transportation has proposed a measure to require cities to justify their need for photo enforcement cameras, and a 2013 bill to ban them outright is still pending before the Ohio legislature.

Colorado is also considering similar legislation.

And while state governments debate the issue, the number of local jurisdictions using the cameras is reportedly declining. Information released from a forthcoming Reason Foundation study indicates that after a 2011 peak of 700 jurisdictions using cameras to enforce traffic laws, only 500 jurisdictions continue with 60 of those cities and counties discontinuing the practice being in California alone.

Upon discussing the trend away from traffic enforcement cameras, the Free Denton post states “All of this is old news. Your city representatives KNOW this.” With the abundance of information on this subject, that statement certainly should be true.

A March Wall Street Journal article discussed the rapid growth of red light cameras – including an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistic of “540 communities using them in 2012, more than 10 times the number in 2001″ – but also reported “an increasing number of city and county officials are questioning their worth—and pulling the plug.” It described that while erroneous tickets and driver complaints including some seeing the cameras as invasive were factors, studies claiming the cameras don’t reduce accidents and even in some cases increase them is an even larger motivator for the decline.

And as the safety debate continues, there is still the corruption angle. Though the federal investigation involving Redflex remains quiet, inquiring minds can legitimately question if the bribery and other public corruption allegations seen with Redflex and the city of Chicago might similarly surface with the company’s clients here in Texas.

Past that, discussion over traffic cameras’ constitutionality (or lack thereof) is much needed.

At the April 15 Denton City Council meeting, resident Russell Linton addressed this and other traffic camera issues. He made these points regarding the cameras’ constitutionality:

The red light camera program is made possible by city ordinance that circumvents constitutional rights. 5th, 6th and 14th amendment rights are cast aside to discourage citizens from seeking justice. Presumption of your guilt is written into the law. Your true accuser can elect not to face you and instead testify via affidavit.

But to kick off the trampling of our rights, this for profit company gets to play cop.

A Redflex technician makes the first determination whether what is recorded is a violation. Next, another technician pulls your private vehicle registration information and finally, a manager approves what to forward to the police. Only then do our police review this evidence and apply their electronic signature.

That chain of custody alone for the so-called evidence should make it inadmissible.

If the accused does opt to fight, they face the judgment of a Redflex trained “Administration Officer” before being allowed to appeal and seek justice in front of an actual judge.

This foreign, for-profit, corporation with a penchant for scandal is in control of every step of this perversion of justice.

Click here for the full text of Linton’s remarks, here for the video.

Though red light cameras are promoted as a public safety benefit, taxpayers instead appear to be funding a seemingly corrupt, illegal racket that offers no benefit except as a state-sponsored financial shakedown helping to fill the coffers of participating local governments and associated vendors.

And while momentum for curtailing this self-serving practice that betrays public interests continues to build, it remains to be seen if increased public outrage and potential political backlash will be enough to put the brakes on red light cameras.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As also a contributor at Raging Elephants Radio and News Radio 1400 KTEM, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the creator and online producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

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