Why I love red-light cameras

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Today's Oregonian brings a front-page story about red-light cameras. It seems that the Lege is considering a bill to remove the cap on the number of red-light cameras each city can install.

Oregon drivers couldbe getting more of those red-light tickets in the mail if House Bill 2508 clears the Senate this week, lifting the limits on the number of intersections watched by red-light cameras. The House passed the bill 41-11 in April, and the governor has indicated he'll sign it.

Current law caps the number of Oregon intersections that can be monitored by those keen digital eyes. Portland gets 12, each other city of more than 30,000 gets eight.

Of course, if you ask around casually, most folks will tell you that they hate the idea. After all, when you spot a patrol car, every one of us instinctively taps the brakes, slows down, and gets hyper-alert. But a red-light camera can grab you without notice. (For the record, I got speeding ticket a couple of months ago; but no, haven't been hit by a red-light camera.)

Anyway, I love red-light cameras. And let me tell you why.

In short, they're egalitarian enforcement. If you run a red light that's enforced by a camera, you're going to get a ticket. The camera doesn't care if you're young, or old. It doesn't care if you're a shady-looking dude, or a hot blonde with big boobs. It doesn't care if you're a rich and powerful pillar of the community. It doesn't care if you're "driving while black." And it doesn't care how good your excuse is - and it isn't affected by your skill in talking your way out of a ticket.

There are all kinds of situations where a little human intelligence - a police officer's judgment - is best applied. But running a red light is an either/or thing. Either you ran it, or you didn't. There's NOT any judgment to be applied... and a red-light camera does a great job of nailing everybody. And best of all, there's proof. There's no arguing with the camera, "but I swear it was only yellow!"

So, let's have more red-light cameras.

And our police officers can get to work applying themselves to jobs that require actual humans.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    I love red light cameras, too. I even love speed cameras. People are way too nonchalant about the number-one killer of people ages 1 to 35, something that kills more people each month than died in the 9/11 attacks: traffic crashes.

    One key to making sure people follow important safety laws is a reasonable expectation that when they break those laws, they may get caught. With our current police staffing levels, there's no reasonable likelihood of consequence. Red light cameras improve that situation.

    And that means more Oregonians are going to go home alive each year.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I agree with Kari. In general I am opposed to "Big Brother" using electronic devices to monitor and punish behavior, but when it comes to running red lights, I say let's use every means available to catch the violators and punish the behavior. I can't believe the number of people who blow through red lights, particularly in Beaverton and Tigard. Yes the roads suck. Yes there should be a faster way to commute between your house and your job. But don't take it out on me, my kids, and my grandson by driving like an insane fool.

    Green means go, Red means stop, Yellow does NOT mean accelerate.

  • tl (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kari,

    I agree with nearly everything you have written. There is the issue, though of speeders/red-light drivers of company vehicles (no way to determine the actual driver): On the Radar Screen

    I also wish they could capture errant cyclists as well. As a law-abiding cyclist, those who run lights and ride in defiance of the law make it more difficult and dangerous for me.

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: tl | Jun 4, 2007 2:56:50 PM I agree with nearly everything you have written. There is the issue, though of speeders/red-light drivers of company vehicles (no way to determine the actual driver)

    Not really much of an issue. The company knows (or should know) who is driving their vehicle. If they don't, then the company is legally culpable (what if the person driving the vehicle is not even an employee or properly insured or even has a driver's license)...?

    In short, their may be a some further digging on who gets fingered and how, but ultimately the owner of the vehicle is responsible if hey are letting people use it and are hence legally culpable if they can't put forward who was using their vehicle.

    Unless they want to try and claim it was stolen.

    I don't really see the issue since if it is disputed, it is sorted out in court.

  • Eric (unverified)
    (Show?)

    What I'd like to see are cross walk cameras that nail all the jerks who drive through at full speed while I'm standing in the cross walks waiting on NW 21st and 23rd..

  • andy (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I don't mind red light cameras as long as they are really red light cameras. The problem is that some of this stuff is more about money than actual enforcement. If you dig into this subject a little bit you'll find plenty of garbage where the providers of the cameras get most of the money and the city doesn't get much. You'll also find allegations (and maybe proof?) that some of these cameras are rigged to provide more revenue to the camera owners.

    I do hate the red light cheats and I see them all the time. There is always some idiot of a clown who thinks he can just come thru the intersection and that everyone will let him. So if the camera nails that idiot and the bust is legit then I'm all for it. But the problem is that all it takes is a little messing with the firmware and those legit busts aren't legit anymore and it is very difficult if not impossible to prove that you got framed.

  • spicey (unverified)
    (Show?)

    yes, OK. And, the fine shouldn't be so over the top, please? I got one of these in Beaverdoom and the fine was $330! going to court brought it down $80, but still! Got one in the Bronx and it was $50. Can we be reasonable?

  • (Show?)

    Yeah, they're just wunnerful. I especially like the fact that Grumman has a built in revenue enahncer for the municipalities.

    Just decrease the time that the yellow light is illuminated. More lawbreakers and new squad cars all around........

    Yay!

  • (Show?)

    In practice it all sounds good, but the principle is that it's OK to monitor individuals in public and attempt to catch some of them in criminal behavior.

    If you have a mini-mart and you put up a camera, that's your privilege--but I have the right to leave if I don't want to be filmed.

    That's not necessarily the case in a public venue, particularly simply out on the streets (as opposed to say, Pioneer Square). Let's extrapolate a little: if it's fair to take pictures of people running reds, isn't it also fair to take pictures of people smoking in Pioneer Square, or sitting too long in one spot at Saturday Market?

    Shorter: TJ--where does it end, philosophically speaking? To endorse red light cameras, in my view, is to also endorse the theory behind ANY constant monitoring of ANY public area. And I'm not at all sure I'm ready to do that.

  • no one in particular (unverified)
    (Show?)

    n short, their may be a some further digging on who gets fingered and how, but ultimately the owner of the vehicle is responsible if hey are letting people use it and are hence legally culpable if they can't put forward who was using their vehicle.

    This is dead wrong. The owner of the vehicle gets a form with their picture, but all you have to do is send in a copy of your driver's license and sign a form saying the driver wasn't you. Yes, there is a spot on the form where you're supposed to indicate who was driving, but you're under absolutely no obligation to fill it out.

    Want to speed through some red lights? Borrow your friend's car.

  • (Show?)

    To endorse red light cameras, in my view, is to also endorse the theory behind ANY constant monitoring of ANY public area. And I'm not at all sure I'm ready to do that.

    No it's not. That's silly.

    A red light camera is enforcing a single law that (if programmed correctly) is easily enforced in a binary state - either you were over the line when the light was red, or you were not.

    That's a long way from cameras pointed willy-nilly all over the place and cops sitting behind banks of monitors.

  • (Show?)

    Kari and I agree about too much, so I like to see when he's completely off base on a post ;-)

    They may be egalitarian, but this is their sole virtue. The last thing we need is the further spycam-ifcation of America. The precedent is long set, and there's no putting this humpty dumpty back together, but what's to stop surveillance ventures throughout the public sphere? It is already the movement with the Patriot act and the panic over terrorists--why not just wire every tree in the city--surely there's a lot of evil doers doing a lot of evil.

    It worked for Stalin!

    (Hysterical comment mostly used for comedy.)

  • (Show?)

    BTW, I agree that it's possible for the cameras to be badly programmed. I agree that it's possible for the vendors to be ripping off the cities. I agree that it's possible for the fines to be too high.

    But none of those things negates the big picture - that red light cameras are egalitarian enforcement.

  • (Show?)

    Jeff, we posted three seconds apart -- so, I'll refer the gentleman to the response I gave some moments ago.

  • john h (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "lestatdelc" said: "In short, their may be a some further digging on who gets fingered and how, but ultimately the owner of the vehicle is responsible if hey are letting people use it and are hence legally culpable if they can't put forward who was using their vehicle."

    Actually, that's not the case. The person driving the vehicle is responsible under the law, end of story (I'm too lazy to dig up the ORS on this, but have researched it before). You cannot hold the owner of the vehicle accountable (nor should you be able to as that would require the owner to incriminate somebody as opposed to the law enforcement entity doing the incrimination).

    That's why husbands and wives who register their primary vehicles to each other on the vehicle title will never get a ticket under photo enforcement laws in Oregon (the ticket can be successfully contested with a letter saying you were not driving the car and a photo copy of your drivers' license showing you are not the person in the driver's seat. The law does not require you to say who was). The police could research the situation and re-issue the ticket, but the workload that would require makes it cost-prohibitive.

  • Mike Schryver (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I'm also very uneasy about monitoring of public places. And if the light times and software are controlled in any way by the vendor, that's just asking for trouble. I don't like the idea, but it looks like most people are conditioned to accept this sort of thing nowadays.

    Maybe a little bit of the police resources freed up by this could be used to catch drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians at intersections?

  • (Show?)

    Anyone who wants to have a private public sphere can follow the traffic laws.

    Except, that is, when they use an ATM. Or enter a convenience store. Or go to an airport. Or sit on the street while Google Street View drives by. Or go to their bank. Or...

    Red light cameras only trigger when someone runs a red light. They're not constantly on, like most of these examples above.

    I'm MUCH more concerned about electronic data abuse than I am about the privacy of those people who speed through red lights.

  • (Show?)

    Kari, the problem is that the principle behind the law, not the way this law is written, is the barn door. And the horses (my personal liberties, to over-extend a bad metaphor) are already galloping away from the barn. If it's okay in principle to enforce law via camera, then my fears about cameras enforcing other laws is far from silly over-reaction. There may be a point at which it's no longer popular to do this and it will begin to have elective consequences. But what happens when we have a war or a sniper or a school shooting and the mob ethos takes over?

    Principles in law are major issues because the unintended consequences they create can be manifestly bad.

    Stalin! (Tee hee)

  • Blue Dog Oregon (Jim) (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kari,

    As an admitted drover-through-the-yellow-light-turning-red-and-got-caught perpetrator, I totally agree with you. It's a binary issue, and if you are running red, you're guilty. If you don't like quick yellow lights, then slow down when it turns yellow (like we all know we're supposed to, but almost none of us do).

    I think this is an issue that requires a little less highfalutin political philosophy and a little more common sense. A red light camera is hardly the gestapo spying through your windows. It's a reasonable way to save police personnel time (and taxpayer money) and enforce good laws.

  • (Show?)
    To endorse red light cameras, in my view, is to also endorse the theory behind ANY constant monitoring of ANY public area. And I'm not at all sure I'm ready to do that. No it's not. That's silly. A red light camera is enforcing a single law that (if programmed correctly) is easily enforced in a binary state - either you were over the line when the light was red, or you were not. That's a long way from cameras pointed willy-nilly all over the place and cops sitting behind banks of monitors.

    Yes, it IS a long way. But I didn't ask you to measure the distance between them; I asked you to analyze the THEORY at work in both cases: that it's OK to monitor public spaces for lawbreaking activity, and issue ajudications without human intervention. Point being if you say it's OK to watch people for running a red light, you have to then explain why it's NOT OK to watch people for other reasons.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The way I see it - if you are following the law, you will have nothing to worry about and you won't get your pic taken. If you want to let a friend drive your car, make sure they follow the law too. No way will I let my sister drive my car - even if I am injured. She has racked up too many violations and I take pride in having a good driving record and (in turn) low insurance rates. If you can't pay the fine, don't drive and whine.

  • Dan (unverified)
    (Show?)

    One of the points used to support use of these cameras is that they facilitate equal application of the law. But this is only true if the cameras themselves are equally distributed across neighborhoods. Does anyone have any data showing whether this is the case?

  • (Show?)

    yes, OK. And, the fine shouldn't be so over the top, please? I got one of these in Beaverdoom and the fine was $330! going to court brought it down $80, but still! Got one in the Bronx and it was $50. Can we be reasonable?

    Reasonable? We are talking about safety here. A $50 fine is not likely to make someone think the next time they accelerate the second the light turns yellow. However, $330 would certainly whisper in that speed demons ear next time they think they need to get to their destination two minutes earlier than they would if they had to sit through a light cycle and didn't endanger themselves, other drivers and pedestrians.

    I would like to note that I do not believe that fines ultimately deter actions on a large scale, but I do believe they exist to punish and sometimes the message is received loud and clear.

  • (Show?)

    I forgot to mention that I knew someone would invoke the "if you're not doing anything illegal, you have nothing to fear" argument--an argument that is perfectly at odds with history. Eric makes the argument here. A nice rebuttal, and last year's best movie, is "Lives of Others."

    I believe my torrid of rants, not to be confused with Torrid's rants (though they might easily be) are now concluded...

  • Dave Porter (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I concur with all that Kari has said on this issue. Pass the bill, eliminate the limit, bring on the cameras, and do not run red lights.

  • Joe12Pack (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Bots nailing you for blowing a red light? I can think of at least a few cogent arguments opposing such tactics, but I don't find that practice too objectionable so long as they play fair.

    Speed cameras are another matter. They tend to eliminate personal discretion, traffic & road conditions from the equation, making them little more than a nanny state automated revenue generator.

    My biggest beef on local roads & highways (besides ridiculously limited capacity) is poor drivers. If only there were an automated method to identify them and revoke their licenses. Then there's the overly aggressive drivers, riding bumpers, weaving through traffic and altogether making conditions unsafe. No automated camera system that I know of has jackass detection capabilities.

  • TR (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The tax NYMBY syndrome is alive and well for the users political supporters of alternative transport. No matter what the reason why, it is always tax or charge somebody else or the motorists for the alternative form of transport and infrastructure they use and want to socialistically force other people to use too. So here is a novel democratic idea. Put higher transit fares before the voters and tell the public what they will get if passed. Put a bicycle tax on that ballot and let the public know what it will pay for, even if it is to pay for transit. It is a total disservice to the citizenry of Portland and the region for Metro and PDOT not to have an open conversation, or even survey the public with straight forward questions on the issue of taxing alternative transport use. Obviously this has been kept off of local political agendas and the dictatorial squabble table because making alternative forms of transport more financially self sustainable, paid for by users, would handily be passed by the voters.

  • janine (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I'm with Jeff and Joe on this one. I'm far more uncomfortable with both the Big Brother aspects of this and the incentive for the contractor to cheat on setting the camera than I am about the red light runners.

    The only way I would support this is if some government agency that didn't benefit from the revenue being generated was in charge of setting the timing on the cameras and checking them regularly. I don't always trust the government but I trust the contractors way, way less.

    There's another thing to consider. I lived in California until I was 36 (insert obligatory groan here from Oregon natives :) and I saw first-hand what happens to a place when the government turns into the nanny state. The more laws there were restricting what people could do, the more people acted as though anything not already illegal was ok. Personal responsibitlity and common sense were just left by the wayside. I don't think people did it consciously, but that was the result. So it becomes a snowballing effect... the more people fail to self-regulate the more laws have to be passed and the worse they get. I'd really like to see Oregon not head down that slippery slope.

  • TR (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Sorry about the above post, I copied and pasted it from another blog for my own information and did not mean to post it here. You are welcome to remove it.

    The following is my intended post:

    Red light cameras are nothing less than vehicle profiling. Time and again I have observed bicyclists ignore red lights and rocket past stopped cars into intersections where red light cameras exist. No flash or ticket, but several near crash misses with larger vehicles This along with the many times I have been nearly been run down, not by cars, but by bicyclists in downtown area crosswalks, the need is clear for bicycles in Oregon to be licensed with plates large enough for the traffic cameras to read them, and the need for the traffic cameras to be triggered by bicycles. Until all that happens, the title of this column should read: “Why I love selective and discriminatory law enforcement practices.”

  • janine (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I just realized I had better clarify that just a tad. Of course running red lights is already illegal, but we still rely on people to do the right thing. In my opinion adding red light cameras has the same psychological effect as the "nanny state" laws I was referring to - people who do this sort of thing get to know where they can and can't get away with it. Instead of doing the right thing, they can get into a mindset of "can't catch me here". Not everyone does this, of course, but it's the worst offenders who do, and it's a mental shift that turns into a vicious cycle, as I said before.

  • janine (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I just realized I had better clarify that just a tad. Of course running red lights is already illegal, but we still rely on people to do the right thing. In my opinion adding red light cameras has the same psychological effect as the "nanny state" laws I was referring to - people who do this sort of thing get to know where they can and can't get away with it. Instead of doing the right thing, they can get into a mindset of "can't catch me here". Not everyone does this, of course, but it's the worst offenders who do, and it's a mental shift that turns into a vicious cycle, as I said before.

  • Curt (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I hate those things. Here's the problem -- I'm a normal guy. Got a place to live, I register my car to myself, at my house, I buy insurance for it, etc. So if I blow one of those things, it costs me. Contrast that with the guy who doesn't buy insurance or bother to register his car -- he doesn't have a reason to worry about red light cameras.

    The penalty for breaking a law should not be higher for a citizen than for a dirtbag. Sorry, but no way will I ever be okay with that.

    Meanwhile, I'll keep blowing red lights as always on my motorcycle, which doesn't set off the sensors at most intersections. I guess that's okay though, since I don't have a front plate and I wear a full face helmet. Right?

    Curt

  • (Show?)

    I think Evan Manvel's point is a critical one:

    Red light cameras only trigger when someone runs a red light. They're not constantly on, like most of these examples above.

    They're NOT video cameras -- they're still-photo cameras. Perhaps TJ and Jeff can process that through their theory-machines.... A (correctly configured) still camera only catches the precise moment of the law breaking - as opposed to a video camera which watches everything.

    I'm concerned about the latter, not the former.

  • chris baxted (unverified)
    (Show?)

    the more red light cameras and speed cameras the more customers we get buyign our device http://www.navalert.com

    bring em on.

  • (Show?)

    Curt,

    Re sensors, there is already a law on the books in Oregon that requires you to sit through one complete intersection light cycle. If your bike doesn't trigger the sensor after this waiting period, you are legal to proceed as if it were a stop sign.

    Sorry that I don't have the reference here.

    <hr/>

    Regarding tampering with yellow light lengths, imagine the worst case scenario:

    Green 1/10th of a second yellow strobe Red

    No person regardless of how self righteous would ever be able to comply. So the distance between current/non-photo intersection yellow times and zero time is the room that grummann has to work with (and last time I checked, back when Beaverton first jumped on this Gravy Train, Grumman got a cut of every fine). This goes right against your unconscious learned timing. A timing of which you are only peripherally aware if at all, but which you have "learned" over the years.

    It's a blatant trap and deserves no respect or defense.

    <hr/>

    As for the big picture, I'm with Jeff and Joe. Just look at how public space continues to evolve in England.

    I don't think that we can hold it back for much longer here though. Too damned convenient, and we always choose convenience over Liberty. We're Muricans after all......

  • ellie (unverified)
    (Show?)

    So... how do we know the cameras only take photos when triggered? How do we know they're not filming all the time for other purposes and the only thing we're informed of is the red light enforcement photo reason? Call me crazy, but I'm not very trusting.

    I like the idea of enforcing red lights (I still see way too many people race through them) but I wonder about some of the yellow lights. Some really do seem shorter than others. If we're going to have this enforcement system in place, then we should have a set time period that the light is actually yellow.

  • jay wells (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I'm with Ellie. It's a bit nixonian, but what if the same cameras were reprogramed to record the faces of protesters as they marched through the intersection?

    And I was told by a Portland officer that "yellow means stop." The cameras trigger on yellow, by his explanation.

  • jay wells (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Has anyone ever filed a Freedom of Information Request for these photos over, say, a given weekend? What exactly would Beaverton need to provide with an FOIA request?

  • Garrett (unverified)
    (Show?)

    These things aren't anything but a revenue generator for the city govts. that use them. I was working near the courthouse when they instituted these things in our city and watched the line waiting to get into the courthouse double them triple. I talked to the people and most of them were contesting. Plenty of them walked out of there with no penalty because it simply costs too much to have a court debate on photo cops. If you fight it you'll probably get off with little or no penalty. Of course you have to wait in the line.

  • (Show?)

    Regarding tampering with yellow light lengths, imagine the worst case scenario:

    Pat, do you have any evidence that the cities or vendors are even asking for shorter yellow-light lengths -- or are we just imagining worst case scenarios?

    So... how do we know the cameras only take photos when triggered? How do we know they're not filming all the time for other purposes and the only thing we're informed of is the red light enforcement photo reason?

    As I've said repeatedly above, my point is only my point if it's true that they're doing it the way they say they are.

    Listen, if they wanted to put up cameras in violation of your civil liberties, they'd be a lot sneakier than sticking 'em in a red-light camera -- too obvious.

    Put away the tin-foil hat, ok?

  • anonymous (unverified)
    (Show?)

    There are no statistics conclusively demonstrating red light cameras cut down on accidents from running red lights: If somebody has in fact run the light and gotten into an accident, all you have is a picture of the accident. And there are no credible statistics proving red light cameras make drivers more careful.

    Red light cameras are a classic public-private scam that does serious harm to public comity for private profit. If this was such a public safety issue, it would be in the interest of the community for the system to be public owned and subject to all the requirements, scrutiny, and limits to which public services are subjected. There are several companies who have made a business scamming cities, and obviously tools like, into privatizing all manner of what should be public operations like this. The companies end up making whatever money there is to be made and the cities are left holding the bag. Left in the wake of this ripoff is the ill will towards our neighbors and wormy little leaders who support this for their own childish, selfish reasons.

    For obviously dangerous drivers like Blue Note:

    Green means go, Red means stop, Yellow does NOT mean accelerate.

    Yellow does not mean slow down, yellow does not mean slam on the brakes, yellow does not mean stop, yellow does not mean do not enter the intersection, yellow does not mean do not accelerate. Yellow doesn't mean anything of those things absolutely. Yellow means caution. Yellow means to use judgement to determine what is the genuinely safest thing to do under the specific circumstances and do it. You obviously are a danger on the road if you do not know that and do not drive accordingly.

    Put away the tin-foil hat, ok?

    The rightwingers reading Blue Oregon need to know that people like Kari, Blue Note, and a lot of commentors here do not represent the true and honorable spirit of liberal progressive politics. Every political movement has it's contingent who just don't quite get it. For the most part it's not even those folks fault they aren't that sharp and can't help themselves from letting their limitations show. Unfortunately, they really mess things up for everybody. Someone really does need to study why, though, Portland and Oregon seem to be disproportionately burdened in this regard.

  • Jesse B. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I'm in the TJ/Jeff camp as well.

    Photo or video, I'm uncomfortable with all the cameras.

  • hawthorne (unverified)
    (Show?)

    You love them? That's a pretty strong word.

    I guess my feeling is that we have larger, more important issues to deal with- including issues that involve vehicles and transportation. I'm uncomfortable with this Bushionian/Republican notion that the solution to every issue can be solved via stricter enforcement. They can't- and where does it end?

    It's not about tinfoil hats, it's about taking off the blinders that allow some to think that our privacy and quaint notions like human interaction and judgement should somehow be overcome. Too Orwellian for me- the wrong solution that only develops other problems instead of dealing with the issues at hand.

    I mean, really. You love them?

  • (Show?)

    "Put a bicycle tax on that ballot"

    that sounds appealing. So everyone who doesn't ride a bicycle would pay a tax? Would it go into the general fund, or straight to the bicyclists? Because I'm sure you don't mean taxing people who ride bikes, seeing as how they save the city so much more money than if they were riding cars or even public transport--what with them not buying gas, wearing out the roads with their weight, or taking up so much road capacity that new ones need to be built. Oh, and the small matter of increased wellness that reduces all of our health care costs. I'm sure you couldn't mean to tax people who ride bikes, eh?

  • (Show?)

    I guess since I invoked Stalin, Kari, I can't accuse you of lowering the level of debate by mentioning tin-foil hats. I am made of sterner stuff!

    They're not only used on traffic lights. I'm not sure what the law is, but they're used for speeding, too--I got nailed for one of those on the Burnside Bridge last year. Perhaps there's a triggering mechanism there, too--which, by your definition, would make them a reasonable measure:

    A (correctly configured) still camera only catches the precise moment of the law breaking - as opposed to a video camera which watches everything.

    There are three things that really bother me about camera enforcement: (1) they eliminate my right to confront my accuser; (2) they make no allowances for circumstance which might override the crime; (3) they are subject to error. (That latter fault is a consequence of the first.) From my point of view, these are bedrock elements of law. You think it's a tin-foil hat hypothesis that we'll use motion cameras to monitor crime, but haven't we given up something very serious already? Why, in this period following 9/11, is the next step so difficult to imagine?

    In my own case, I was issued a ticket with my picture driving a car. It gave details about how I was exceeding the speed limit, but of course, there was no way to refute this claim. Furthermore, it was weeks after the event, so even if the machine had malfunctioned, how could I possibly have remembered?

    Added to this is the reality that I no longer even get to see a judge. I stood in line for 90 minutes, and then was offered the opportunity to schedule a hearing or pay the fine outright. No judge looked at my flawless driving record to mitigate that fine, nor was there any likelihood that taking another morning away from work was going to help my case. (In any event, I had no idea whether I'd committed a crime.) It was a Kafka-esque moment.

    I also think there's a violation of the public trust when it's private companies, not our public police force, who enforce these things (from the linked O story):

    For instance, Portland's provider, Affiliated Computer Services, gets an initial deposit of $35,000 for each camera from the city, plus $2,000 a month in a lease fee and $27 per $237 citation, according to a report to the Legislature earlier this year.

    Back to you--

  • anonymous (unverified)
    (Show?)

    A (correctly configured) still camera only catches the precise moment of the law breaking - as opposed to a video camera which watches everything.

    This, of course, is the essence of the argument police use when they are caught beating someone only for the opposite purpose: They always claim the photo, or short video, doesn't paint a true picture of what actually went on. Kari is using the extreme version of a still camera shot here to justify this scam, while the cops use that short glimpse as an argument to against accusations of bad behavior.

    The cops depend of having clueless people like Kari on a jury who mainly are interest in what benefits them in particular circumstance: In the case of red light cameras, Kari's political benefactors and he personally each believe they derive a benefit from this scam; jurrors believe they benefit from police having a free hand, generally to abuse those of lesser means than the majority society jury pools proportionally represent.

    At the bottom line, it demonstrates why the justification is bogus and why I think we are seeing how the crowd of folks like Kari aren't progressive, they are just self-interested. It just is the nature of our state that a lot of what they want happens to appear to be congruent with the progressive cause, even though their core values are more in step with regressive elements in our society.

  • (Show?)

    Kari,

    I am, as you suggest, going to a worst case scenario.

    In my experience the worst case scenario is the most important scenario because lazy and avaricious entities, whether public or private will ALWAYS end up right there, usually sooner rather than later.

  • Jeff Lesh (unverified)
    (Show?)

    No to cameras. I hate our surveillance culture and the abuses it opens us up to.

    It seems heavyweight to solve this problem this way. Social norms against this behavior should be relied on and strengthened instead.

    Also, these cameras will only make a difference if the individual is consciously making a choice to run the light, rather than just driving absentmindedly or drunkenly oblivious.

    -Jeff

  • (Show?)

    There are no statistics conclusively demonstrating red light cameras cut down on accidents from running red lights

    Well, yeah, because there's only 12 of them around the city. By definition, then, the odds are that you won't get caught. Put one on every red light, and you'd see a dramatic drop in people running them.

    If this was such a public safety issue, it would be in the interest of the community for the system to be public owned and subject to all the requirements, scrutiny, and limits to which public services are subjected.

    Agreed. I'm all for the public owning 'em.

  • nader (unverified)
    (Show?)

    What a fabulous debate we've got going here (yay Blue Oregon). I'd have to weigh in on the TJ/Jeff side of the equation, both for my theoretical concerns and for how photo redlight/radar are actually used.

    Kari (and I'm addressing you as the official "pro-camera" voice), there are a lot of ways we could employ technology in a binary way to enforce the law against citizens when we law enforcement has absolutely no probable cause to suspect a law is being broken, but we don't do it because our law requires PC for such surveillance. We could have devices attached to all our cars, say required when you register them, that automatically issue you a speeding ticket when your speedo exceeds 70 (or 75, or whatever the max speed limit is in this state). We could have breathalyzers installed that you must blow into before putting a car in gear; if above .08 bac BING you get a ticket once the car is in motion.

    And though our courts have ruled otherwise, my concerns about 5th amendment right not to be forced to incriminate oneself have never been assuaged. When you get that grainy little photo in the mail you are asked if that is you in the picture. Theoretically they have to ask because all they know at that point is the registered owner of the vehicle, not who was driving. To me I don't see the difference between that and forcing a defendant to go up on the stand and answer questions - but Oregon Courts do because traffic violations technically civil matters, not criminal (despite their remarkable similarity in every way to traditional criminal matters).

    As far as the practical aspect of the enforcement, I would submit that there is still too much subjectivity for it to earn the "egalitarian" tag you'd like to give it. I once got a photo radar speeding ticket and fought it. At the trial the officer admitted that something like 20% of all the photos snapped of allegedly speeding drivers were simply tossed out. The officer said sometimes it was because the images were of poor quality, but he admitted that at other times when the image captured more than one vehicle the officer had to make a judgment call as to which one was speeding. Officer's judgment to me equals room for subjectivity.

    Not to mention the subjectivity in the penalty. If you are lucky enough to have a job (or, I guess have no job) that allows you to contest the ticket in court, I can almost guarantee you'll get the fine dropped. Mine when from something like $135 to $55, just because I showed up. That's not terribly egalitarian.

    Plus, some of the ways to "beat the system" are much more easily available to the more wealthy. Like having multiple cars in different people's names. Have husband and wife (or just about anyone you trust) put each other's car in the other spouses name, and bingo when husband gets caught speeding the ticket comes to wife who can honestly say "that's not me in the photo", so it goes away.

    Anyway, I just find the whole idea dangerous both theoretically and as actually executed.

  • Miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kari: I get it that you're pushing back on the slippery-slope argument. We shouldn't oppose reasonable public policy just because someone, somewhere, might use it as justification for unreasonable public policy. But proponents of red light cameras need to be able to articulate what makes them different from all the unreasonable applications of spy technology in a free society. I don't think you've done that.

    For instance, what about photo radar cameras that ticket speeders? What about sensors in Pioneer Square that alert cops anytime someone lights a cigarrette? What about cameras that snap a picture anytime someone jaywalks, instantly transmits it to a cop's PDA, and tells him what direction the scofflaw is traveling so he can catch up and issue a ticket?

    All of these things are within our technological reach, all could be programmed to only come on when someone actually breaks the law, all are egalitarian, and all could be justified as a way to supplement the underfunded police bureau.

    Would you support this use of technology? If not, what makes it fundamentally different than a red light camera?

  • Robert Harris (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The problems with photo anything.

    First, if an officer pulls you over when you appear to run a light, or speed, you have a chance to rebut and recall immediately what happened. When you get a photo in the mail two weeks later all you can say is...I sort of remember driving on that road, so you are frankly at a loss to address the exact circumstances or recall them if you have a trial

    Second; And sort of related to #1 above, There are circumstances where the machine says you committed a violation, but maybe you didn't. For instance, as you are following a car in front of you it suddenly slows or brakes while you are in the intersection. Or it is icy out, you are going slightly under the speed limit the light goes yellow and you simply feel you can't stop safely and as you are going sort of slow the light turns red halfway thru the intersection. If the officer was there to observe, maybe no ticket, and even if s/he did stop you, at least you could have a great recollection of what happened.

    Third, as the City of Beaverton likes to prove over and over again, the state laws sometimes mean nothing to some local jurisdictions when it comes to enforcing traffic laws. While as some point out, by law you should be able to sign a statement saying it isn't you , mail that to the court and they would dismiss a photo radar ticket, the City Courts in Beaverton ignored that law and required people to either snitch on the actual driver, or come in, take time off from work for a trial, and be asked by the judge who the driver was. So invariably, whatever safety restrictions you put into these laws, there will be some jurisdictions that simply ignore them because its too onerous for the local governments to comply and cuts into their income.

  • (Show?)

    This debate highlights something that concerns me about Oregon's current political climate.

    In my lifetime, I have seen the Republican party devolve from an institution that largely embraced conservative values, including the responsible disposition of tax dollars, into a demagogic, corrupted tool of fringe minorities.

    While we progressives may revel in that party's possible self-destruction, the core value of responsible spending is one that is of critical importance - no matter how preposterous libertarian nutjobs who aim to pull the rug out of government in general may make it look.

    If the Democratic party and/or the will of the people is truly on the rise in Oregon - and it looks like that is the case - it becomes increasingly important for this party and/or progressives in general to incorporate responsible spending into our deliberations - because the institution that has traditionally done so is either waning in power, or consolidating its rhetoric in such a way that only loonies will buy into it.

    Which brings me to the issue at hand.

    Oregon has tremendous money problems. There may be large-scale issues - like the kicker, corporate minimum tax, etc. - that need to be resolved to get past this, but that does not reduce the importance of pursuing responsible spending at every opportunity. Indeed, demonstrating responsible spending practices is one of the things that will make the Democratic party a respectible destination for those responsible conservatives that recognize that the Republican party has sold their values down the river.

    I don't want to minimize the privacy concerns that have formed the focus of much of this debate - on the contrary, personal privacy is something that is very important to me. But in this case - especially since the activity involved (driving) is one that we have long since accepted as a licensed activity, in which the state grants us permission to drive in exchange for meeting certain standards - it bears little resemblance a "fundamental right" - that notion is better suited to keeping the government out of our bedrooms, or fighting wiretaps, etc.

    So, lets look beyond the privacy issue.

    Do these cameras allow police departments to save money? How much? Do they have additional benefits, like better protecting public safety? Reducing racial prejudice or other selective enforcement?

    On the other hand, why have proponents neglected to engage with Garrett's comment above, which suggests that the motivating factor is the enrichment of private companies that supply the devices? That argument is quite compelling in the current political environment, but it seems we've all breezed past it.

    I suppose I'm undecided on this issue, but the argument that privacy trumps these other concerns rings completely hollow to me. We have a responsibility to spend tax money wisely, and technology appears to be offering us an opportunity to do so. A genuine evaluation, in which the specific merits and disadvantages of the technology are examined without blindly dismissing the entire issue as merely one of privacy or of public safety, seems lacking.

    Basically, flaws with the system need not be construed as reasons to do away with it entirely; a better option is to examine the flaws with the goal of fixing or preventing them. Kari has consistently backed that point throughout the discussion, but his detractors seem to be ignoring that. If there are privacy concerns, or fairness-of-execution concerns, how can they be addressed? Why not be a part of the solution, instead of writing off the entire approach?

  • Dave Porter (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I do not think we should be afraid of using technology in law enforcement. I do not think progressives are some how against technological change, just because it's change, or just because it could be abused. I think we are clever enough to put checks in place that reduce abuse to the levels (or less) of the current enforcement systems (which certainly has abuses). I think progressive stand for progress and for experimenting with new ideas. I'm for trying cameras and other technologies for a number of purposes, seeing what problems (constitutional, privacy, etc ) do emerge for each purpose, trying to solve those problems, and then, if we cannot solve the problems, not using technology for those purposes.

    I do not think we should be law enforcement Luddites. I am for a vigorous discussion (like this and in courts) of protecting our rights under such new technology systems.

  • (Show?)

    Many red-light cameras are set up specifically to start shooting once someone crosses the line after the light turns red. I've been through the ones near MLK/Burnside enough to know this is true.

    There's no flash for vehicles that crossed on the yellow, but were in the middle of the intersection when it was red. There is a flash when someone crosses the line after it turns red.

    Police officers I've spoken with say there isn't an automatic mailing of tickets. They go through and look at each one. Was there some special circumstance (like when the vehicle behind you is obviously not stopping, so you go through the light too). Was there any special road conditions, such as a slippery road that could have caused the driver to feel unsafe stopping in time (or unable to stop in time).

    Yielding the right of way is a huge issue. The vast majority of accidents I've seen (and responded to while working as a reporter - we took pictures not only for the paper, but for the fire dept and EMS) were caused by FTYROW. In the tens of thousands of police reports I read, over and over again FTYROW shows up. Most of the accidents in the reports were caused by this -- someone ran a red light, ran a stop sign, or pulled out in front of someone.

    Personally, I don't think we take traffic laws seriously enough.

  • phil (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I've given up driving, and only walk or use the bus now. I would love it if the the police did more enforcement against cars that ignore pedestrains who want to cross the street. Still, I think the cameras are a bad idea. The police review the photographs, and I have not heard of a single case of a Tri-met driver getting a photo-ticket, even though I have been a passenger on buses that frequently blow through the intersections on Sandy blvd. The photo system is not completely automated, and can still be subject to humans who may want to play favorites.

  • (Show?)

    Phil:

    I've definitely seen them get the picture taken at Grand/Burnside. I don't know if any have been ticketed. Of course, having worked in newspapers and covered police reports, unless someone actually went and looked that information up, we'll never hear about it.

  • Big Bruddah (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Technolgy is fantastic! I'm hoping that everyone in the US is required to carry or have a computer chip embedded in thier passport, driver license or better yet under thier skin at birth. Sensors could be piggy backed to exisitng surveilance cameras so that anyones movement and identity could be readily tracked. Hmm, passports already have the chip. My cell phone can be tracked via GPS. My car can be tracked via lojack. For that mater my lap top can as well. Um, my dog has a chip in his ear so he can be located if lost. My computer can be tracked as well. Costco knows how much toilet paper I buy, when and how often I buy it and even knows how I pay for it. Fred Meyer can track exactly what I buy and when. Target even has a system that can tell them how long I dwell in a certain aisle while deciding what I want to buy. So I guess a red light camera is not all that much more.

  • dddave (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kari,

    Pls post the DATA that is/was used to justify red light cameras. Pls also do some research into yellow light timing, and whether Portland and a lot of other cities have adopted the new SHORTER yellow timing that makes more red light runners out of all of us. I believe there is data out there suggesting there are actually more rear ender accidents since folks jam on their brakes regardless of the traffic to avoid technology like this. Simply adding one second onto the yellow light timing for dangerous intersections can increase safety dramatically, was this even tested? If safety is the only concern, we dont need all this technology. Perhaps they can install a camera on the street outside your house, you dont have anything to hide, right?

  • Greg Oden (unverified)
    (Show?)

    People who don't like red-light cameras are people who run red lights. As someone who prefers safe driving to idiotic driving, I'm fine with red-light cameras.

  • (Show?)

    This isn't about recording every move you make. We use cameras that take pictures - and only when someone crosses the line after the light has turned red.

    I used to work near two of the cameras already installed in Portland. I went through them at least once per day, if not more. I didn't see a single accident where someone rear ended someone else. The yellow light appeared to last just as long as other yellow lights.

    Those who I saw ran the light quite blatantly ran the light. They had the room and could have safely stopped. The vehicles in the lanes around them all were able to do so. Many of the vehicles around me did the same as I always do when approaching an intersection where the light had been green for some time - they were cautious and prepared for the light to turn red on them.

    Red light cameras like the ones Portland uses I don't have a problem with. All this other stuff about microchips in people and such that this is being compared to, I do have a problem with. The difference is the main and only use of the red light cameras is to catch those who run red lights.

  • BlueBerry Pick'n (unverified)
    (Show?)

    That level of surveillance doesn't bother you?

    I wish I could find a 'removed' protest video on YouTube. I should have saved it before it was culled. It did a beautiful job of illustrating the incredible surveillance capabilities with video, face recognition software, RFID & database information. You know all that data security the US VA seems to have... imagine what that could be used to accomplish with BlackWater or any of the SIXTEEN US intelligence agencies

    enough to make your blood run cold when you realize what the NSA must have if Google Earth StreetLevel is in the Public Domain...

    ...or what your 'marketing' aka 'data-gathering' tagging online & your can accomplish to describe your personal habits & psychological profile...

    When you realize what can be accomplished with public technology alone...

    I look @ Negroponte... then, cameras on streets gives me the freaking night sweats...

    "U.S. a theocratic state", says former Canadian ambassador "The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, & the Truth about Global Corruption"

    Spread Love... ... but wear the Glove!

    BlueBerry Pick'n can be found @ <a href="http://www.ThisCanadian.co

  • Eric J. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    These negative comments about red light cameras in these postings remind me of a comment I heard while I was a temp at a local company some time ago. When someome told the management "this is illegal" the management would reply "unless there is proof or charges actually filed, it is not illegal". Red light cameras provide the proof and show the law breaking that goes on without any question. Just because an officer isn't there to monitor an intersection does not mean you can break the law and make things unsafe. Just follow the law and you will be OK. I do - why not you?

  • Cygnus (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Greetings from Oregon East, a.k.a. the People's Republic of Maryland.

    As insane an idea as red light cameras are (increasing rear-end collisions in Washington, DC and elsewhere; not generating enough revenue for other cities), there's a new problem:

    They simply aren't working.

    Wake me up when I can question a camera in court per the 6th Amendment, ok? Safety, my disc pads; red light cameras are all and only about revenue, and that's always been so.

connect with blueoregon