Wednesday, August 22, 2007

State of Texas Wants a Piece of the Camera Ticket Pie

Here in Houston the chance to increase revenue jumped when City Hall pushed through enforcement of Red Lights with Cameras. They had to side step a few things to get it past, the most important part being that any citation issued would fall into civil law rather than criminal law as other traffic tickets do, tickets issued by cameras would not show up on the driving record of an individual because the tickets are issued to the owner of the vehicle rather than the presumed driver at the time of the infraction and some minor issues involving whether or not the vehicle had stopped and then made an authorized turn while at a red light.

This week City Hall has to contend with revising the ordinance which permits the issuance of Red Light tickets by Cameras because the State of Texas passed a new law which forces the City to hand over half the revenue confiscated.

“The code was amended in the last session under a bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Murphy, R-Houston ( The Woodlands ).”

“That bill requires revisions to Houston’s ordinance. In addition to requiring the definition of a violation come from the state code, Murphy’s law requires cities to send half their red-light camera profits, after maintenance and operations, to a state trauma fund.”

According to statistical records reported by the Houston Police Department, the average number of Red Light tickets issued each day is approximately 442. Multiply that by 365 days per year and convert to dollars at $ 75.00 per ticket and the safety of the public is easily forgotten in favor of $ 12 million dollars; give or take, minus the roughly $ 3 million dollars for the out of state vendor to maintain the system. Now cut that in half and everyone is happy; everyone except the citizen who never has the opportunity to confront the only witness against him, a mechanical device.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m the first person in line wanting folks who run red lights to get ticketed and fined heavily for jeopardizing the safety of everyone else for running red lights or stop signs. When I worked as a police officer in the City of Houston catching folks who’d run a red light were my favorite tickets to write. I had certain standards which governed when I issued tickets; primarily the total disregard for the safety of everyone else based on how far from the intersection the driver was at the time the light changed to red, did the driver speed up to run the light above a reasonable rate of speed and other factors which only could be determined visually by my vantage point and my experience as a police officer when dealing with violators and the multitude of possible reasons for disregarding the communities standards for safety.

My beef with the City of Houston, and now the State of Texas, is with the casual manner in which they have removed a key element from the justice system, human witnesses to back up a mechanical device. They claim that by making Red Light Tickets issued by a Camera a civil matter that it somehow makes everything okay; sorry, without a human witness, a witness who can be confronted, cross examined and required to justify the charges made then there is no witness and no admissible evidence in any court, civil or criminal.

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