Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Why Alaska Should Continue To Reject Red Light Cameras; Redwood City, California Guesses On Unclear Photos And Mails Outs "Best-Guess" Tickets

Anchorage's short-lived and unhappy experience with photo radar, judicially slapped down in 1997, made most Alaskans skittish at best and outright hostile at worst towards photo radar. Occasionally, an appeal for photo radar or redlight cameras sneaks into one of our newspapers, but it's quickly slapped down.

And there's a good reason why we should continue to reject photo radar, and even red light cameras as well. In Redwood City, California, if a picture from a red light camera shows a license plate partially obscured, guess what? They don't discard the picture. Read this account from TheNewspaper.com to find out what they do with it:

When officials in Redwood City, California are not sure who was responsible for an alleged red light camera infraction, they mail out citations to vehicle owners based upon a guess. The San Mateo Daily Journal newspaper provided an inside look at the city's procedures for dealing with tickets issued by a single red light camera installed in March. So far, 470 tickets worth $180,950 have been mailed.

Australian red light camera vendor Redflex operates the device in return for a monthly fee. Redflex employees use sophisticated computer algorithms to review the photographs taken and decide who is and is not guilty with the click of a mouse. The company then offers the Redwood City Police Department an opportunity to review tickets before Redflex drops them in the mail. For budgetary purposes, the police claim an employee spent twenty hours per week in reviewing citations. If true, this means that a police officer spent a full half-hour reviewing each ticket issued to date, one-by-one.

According to the Daily Journal, when Redflex presented a ticket where the full image of the license plate was obstructed, Redwood City Police Project Coordinator Mickey Manry simply guessed what the missing numbers might have been. Manry determined that the non-visible portion of a license plate could only have consisted of a single-digit number. He typed in possible combinations until a registration came up with a vehicle type that appeared to be a close enough match to the vehicle in the photograph. That vehicle's owner will receive points against his driver's license and $385 ticket.

Motorists in
Iowa, Ohio and many other jurisdictions have found that similar guesswork can cause them to be accused of violations that they did not commit. For police and Redflex, there is no penalty for falsely issuing a citation. Innocent motorists often end up paying a ticket rather than subject themselves to the time and hassle required to resolve a false citation.

Pictures worth $400,000 (San Mateo Daily Journal (CA), 5/30/2008)

Note that there not only is NO accountability for an erroneous citation, but the appeals process is sufficiently cumbersome so many just suck it up and pay the fine.

And why should this concern us in Alaska? First of all, during the past municipal election, Anchorage elected an assembly that clearly embraces the concept of bigger and more invasive government. No, the new Assembly is not considering implementing red light cameras. But they are considering reversing a previous Assembly decision to discontinue the IM vehicle exhaust emission-testing program. Proponents of discontinuance cite the fact than Anchorage hasn't had a clean air violation in years as proof that the program has fulfilled its purpose and can be discontinued. However, Assembly Chair Matt Claman and his allies (to include Sheila Selkregg, Mike Gutierrez, Elvi Gray-Jackson, and Harriet Drummond) cite this as proof that the program is working and should be continued, although Claman proposes a slimmed-down version of the previous program. A public hearing is scheduled on June 24th.

With an Assembly in power that believes in bigger government and that government is the primary source of salvation, we citizens must remain vigilant to any efforts to increase the burden of government upon us, and position ourselves to effectively oppose such an increase. Red light cameras can not be permitted on our streets, at least until the technology improves, the presumption of innocence is codified into any enabling legislation, and we limit it to American contractors only (and in our case, we should give preference to any Alaskan contractors).

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