Friday, August 26, 2011

Fixing Camera Issued Tickets

The City of Houston put itself in an interesting predicament, caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, through a series of blunders related to Red Light Camera Ticket Enforcement. Red light cameras were installed, ostensibly as a public safety measure; but in reality they were installed to generate revenue for the city and the private contractor, a private contractor who only required a percentage of the “take” according to the contract entered into.

The citizens of Houston voted the arrangement down; but only after a contract had been signed and put in place; too long a time period having elapsed for such a referendum to be voted upon by the citizenry. The Mayor flip flopped, perhaps a political brain cramp, and decided the contract took precedent over the will of the citizens and had the cameras turned back on to issue more tickets in order to avoid litigation by the company which maintained the mechanical devices. City Council, having observed an uncomfortable amount of heat directed towards the Mayor’s Office which would eventually include all City Council members coming up for re-election, decided to put it to a vote according to an article by Gabe Gutierrez of KHOU 11 News .

“Council members first passed a non-binding resolution to take the cameras down, but then took it a step further – outlawing them in the City of Houston.”

Wonderful, we’re out of one frying pan and back into the other.

“They’ll be fighting the manufacturer of the cameras, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), in court over breach-of-contract claims.”

Here’s how to “fix” the mess without having ATS sue the city for gobs of money they think they’re entitled; keep issuing red light camera tickets. That’s right, keep issuing tickets until the cows come home; but instead of demanding violators pay an automatic fine, have specific wording on each ticket indicating payments are strictly voluntary based on an individual’s “civic responsibility” or conscious desire to do what is right.

There could be additional explanations which point to the fact the city could not produce witnesses to the event in a court of law, at least none that actually observed the running of the red light. Certified Police Officers who review the images on film were not present at the time of the violation and it would certainly be difficult, if not impossible to put a mechanical device on the witness stand should a defendant demand his/her right to cross examination, a time honored and established legal procedure. Judges would be instructed to dismiss any and all challenges to camera issued tickets; no revenue produced and fairly expensive to maintain such a system.

Eventually ATS would look at the bottom line of their “investment” and declare the “for profit venture” a failure; they would bow out of the business quietly. The City of Houston would have honored its original contract and the citizens would eventually see red light traffic camera devices vanish like a bad dream when the sun comes over the horizon.

The lesson; we need to stay within long established legal boundaries requiring human witnesses to testify in our civil and criminal courts. Witnesses must be available for cross examination instead of turning things over to mechanical devices. Returning to these necessary limits would work for Houston and other municipalities where traffic ticket enforcement is based on revenue generation rather than the public’s safety. Remember, the first concern voiced by our city leaders after red light cameras were voted down wasn’t the safety of our citizens; it was how to make up the loss of revenue!

Folks who run red lights are a real danger to society; please don’t read anything into what I’ve said; just make sure we enforce the law in a fair, just and lawful manner. Those who run red lights put lives and property at risk and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law; but only if the violation can be proven in a court of law with real live witnesses, one of whom would normally be a uniformed police officer who observed the incident in person.

This article has been cross posted to The Moral Liberal , a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution”.


MK said...

The other thing they could do is issue a warning to the offenders. The other day I was heading into work on a sloping road, I was doing maybe 6 or 8 mph over the limit. I didn't know the lights had a speed camera as well until I saw the flash go behind me. Now I know to be careful there and I think most people are like that. Fortunately I didn't get a ticket yet so hopefully the new govt. isn't focused only on raising revenue.

The best way to get people to behave on the roads is the presence of a cop on the roads and encouraging people to drive safely not just slowly.

T. F. Stern said...

MK, You gave me my laugh for the morning, "...hopefully the new govt. isn't focused only on raising revenue."

You may have seen the movie City Slickers II ...there's the fellow who runs the treasure hunt tourist attraction...near the end of the movie "our heroes" stumble into the location of the "fake treasure". Anyway...the fellow who leads tourists to the fake treasure starts laughing out loud as he fades away into the cavernous tunnel; that's the kind of laugh I have when I hear someone who believes their government isn't focused only on raising revenue..

Hohohaha and then some.

The probligo said...

"Those who run red lights put lives and property at risk and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law; but only if the violation can be proven in a court of law with real live witnesses, one of whom would normally be a uniformed police officer who observed the incident in person. "

I can agree with the sentiment, but not with the method. Your proposal would (in Auckland anyway) require four policemen with every set of traffic lights as well as any "independant" witnesses and there would still be the smart-a###d lawyer who could argue that the accused was actually at home or at work and not inbetween at the time, or that the policemen had had to have spectacles prescribed the day after the ticket was issued.

Best thing is that if a polis does see you run a red here, there is generally a pursuit which makes it a demrit point offence.

Just in the last week one of the local radio stations set up a reporter at a set of lights (where there is also a red-light camera) and in the space of 30 minutes counted 17 cars running the red, NOT the more than 70 that ran the amber. Oh, and in 30 minutes you could bet on 10 full phases.

Cameras? Bring 'em on!!

T. F. Stern said...

Probligo, Sorry you feel that way; I like the system which requires a real witness,one who can be cross examined in a court of law; not some mechanical device.

The probligo said...

I take it then that in the US a camera can both "see" a car that isn't there, and is colourblind to the extent that a green light looks red? How sad if true. The law here requires both the car (with numberplate visible) and the controlling lights to appear in the same frame before it is accepted as evidence.

Nah. There is as much chance that the witness (polis) is lying as there is the camera.

T. F. Stern said...

Probligo, Your latest comment is disturbing to say the least. It presumes that officers of the law lie as they give testimony in a court of law, almost as if to say the entire system is corrupted because no human witness, more specifically, a police officer's testimony is likely tainted, and we should instead turn our souls over to machines since they are incapable of altering "testimony"; which is a misnomer since machines are incapable of providing testimony.

The probligo said...

I can give you at least two instances (all NZ) where police have lied to a Court. One was in the form of manufactured evidence in a murder trial, one of not submitting or revealing evidence (that eventually led to an acquittal) in another murder trial.

I do not doubt for a moment that the same kind of thing can happen in the US.

There is increasing support for a change of NZ's criminal justice system from the adversorial basis (the same as yours) to an inquisitorial hearing similar to many European nations.

If I were presented with a photograph of my car in the middle of an intersection heading toward a red light I would find it extremely difficult to refute that particular piece of evidence.

It is an interesting argument you propound.

If my DNA were found at a crime scene, would I be able to dispute the validity of that evidence because it was prepared by a machine; no one saw me leave my DNA there, no one saw me committing the crime. How is about the use of street-side cctv? Or what about evidence taken from electronic communications and records used in the commission of a crime?

The fact that a policeman might extract that evidence from a machine, using a machine invalidates the evidence? He can be cross-examined, but the machines can not.

T. F. Stern said...

Probligo, Your continued interest in the area of machine preferred over humans as witnesses in courts of law will require more than a casual comment and so I will leave it alone for now.

The probligo said...

Fraser, I take it you will use a voting machine in your next elections?


The probligo said...

Like this is the kind of "America's finest" that would give better evidence than a camera?

Sorry, TF, but I think your blind loyalty is badly misplaced.