Red light cameras: ‘A local tax on law-breakers?’

Are red light cameras simply a way to levy a tax on people who break the law? 

Douglas Berman, a law professor at The Ohio State University, stakes this claim on his blog.

More than 500 cities — including Bremerton — in 25 states now use them, according to the National Coalition for Safer Roads. Critics argue that governments are just using them to make money, they’re a sign of Big Brother and they don’t improve safety.

But here’s Berman’s take:

“Assuming the data reported here on lives saved is accurate (a big if), I am inclined to be a vocal advocate for greater use of red-light cameras.  Indeed, as long as these cameras do not increase traffic accidents, I still favor a policy that raises revenue through what is essentially a local tax on law-breakers.

Especially if monies collected from traffic violations properly recorded by red-light camera are used on other public safety fronts, these cameras seem to me to be a win-win for all fans of utilitarian approaches to crime and punishment.  Or, dear readers, am I missing something important in this roadway safety cost/benefit analysis?”

I suggest you check out the comments section to see some interesting dialogue.

My colleague Steven Gardner posted the stats of Bremerton’s revenue from red light tickets on the Kitsap Caucus blog. Here are the numbers:

In 2010 Bremerton took in $685,232 in revenue for red-light cameras. The money sent to Redflex Inc, the Arizona company that runs the system, was $443,639. That gets us $241,593 for the year. In 2009 Andy Parks, former financial services director, said it cost the city about $7,500 a month in staff time to run the program. I can only assume now that the figure came from paying for the officers to look at the ticket and estimating the extra cost it takes to run each infraction through the municipal court system. That’s $90,000 a year. So if that accounts for all the city takes in, the annual net income for Bremerton in 2010 would have been $151,593.

The cameras do seem to improve safety at intersections that have them, according to The Insurance Industry for Highway Safety. From a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article Berman cited, “a study showed a 24 percent decline in fatalities from red-light running in cities where the cameras are used, and reductions of 40 to 96 percent in violations.  It has estimated that 150 lives were saved over five years in the 14 biggest cities that use them.”

I fully realize this is a debate that goes on and on (and on and on). But Berman’s argument — that red light cameras are a law breaker’s tax deserves attention in its own right. Anyone find merit in it?

13 thoughts on “Red light cameras: ‘A local tax on law-breakers?’

  1. What is your point Josh? You realize that the national coalition for safer roads is afront group for ATS, a redlight camera company? Of course they are going to show stats in favor of more Redlight cameras, because the more cameras the more profit for them. On the other hand I can show you stats proving that the cameras do nothing to improve safety and actualy make intersections more dangerous. If you want safer intersections the proven method is to adjust the yellow light time accordingly. Yet the City does nothing to correct this. Furthermore, the judge is a complete fake that “hears” the cases. Furthermore, a Bremerton cop does not issue or even sign the ticket instead a private Australian company signs, dates prints, mails, serves and issues the ticket from Arizona. It is a scam and you should investigate it Josh, instead of rambling off some propaganda from the scam company itself. SHAME ON YOU CITY OF BREMERTON, Judge Docter, Officer Miller, Penny Hill and Roger Lubovich… You are nothing but LIARS and THIEVES!!!!!!!!!!!!$%$**%#$*%#.

  2. I say put them up at every single traffic light. It’s pretty simple, if you don’t want a ticket, don’t break the law.

  3. At least talking about it as primarily a revenue generator is more accurate and honest. First of all know that the NCSR is a camera industry funded front group to advocate for the use of, that’s right, no surprise, red light cameras. The IIHS study was seriously flawed, nationally traffic fatalities were down 28% over the same time they found accidents at camera AND non-camera locations in cities with a program went down 24%. TTI TAMU just came out with a study that shows most cities in Texas that installed cameras saw an increase in accidents by as much as 550%. With that as background, if we look at it solely as a revenue generator we would have to question the program on two fronts, on effectiveness and morality.

    How well does the program accomplish the goal of generating revenue and what other costs are there? As people become aware that these tickets are unenforceable ( the delinquincy rate climbs and collections fall. This is what ultimately brought down the program in LA, despite a $500 fine the program was losing over a million dollars a year due to delinquent payments. The proposition that the city will be making money seems to be much less certain than before. Then there are the other costs that are rarely talked about, what are the costs when you take millions of your local dollars and send them out of the city and state to the camera companies and to Austin? Every dollar you send out of the area is one less dollar that can circulate in that locality. And don’t forget, half of the profits go to the state and the state isn’t spending that money back on the local community like they are supposed to.

    What is the moral cost of a program especially if it increases accidents? Is it right for a city to profit from a program that has directly contributed to injuries and accidents? I would argue no. Knowing that there have been several votes in Texas on photo enforcement and none have gone in favor of the cameras we can make the statement that the camera programs are against the public will. Implementing a program that is contrary to the expressed will of the majority of voters seems rather authoritarian to me. What is the cost to law enforcement as these programs ferment a general sense of distrust of the city government and the police department? As the cameras have operated in Houston I don’t think anyone would claim the public perception of HPD has improved. A police chief in one of the largest camera states, Arizona, wrote in American Police Beat that;

    “Police should strive for methods with minimal impacts to personal liberties. Privacy, freedom, and the right to be left alone are all concerns raised by use of photo radar. Whereby public trust is an integral and indispensable to the fulfillment of our duties, we should not partake in enforcement activities that erode that trust.”

    Considering the costs, and potential costs of implementing a camera program I don’t see the scales of a cost-benefit analysis tipping in favor of a camera program.

  4. Anyone that says “if you don’t want a ticket don’t break the law” clearly has absolutely no idea how these camera systems work. They are designed to fine people that don’t break the law, you don’t even have to be driving to get a ticket. The only way to be sure not to get a ticket is to not own a vehicle. Of course all of the criminal red light runners that never updated their registration to a new address or anyone that is driving a car in someone elses name will never get a ticket no matter how many times they break the law.

  5. Both my husband and myself have been navigating through at least two or more of the Bremerton camera installed intersections nearly everyday, most times more than once a day through the same intersections for commuting and for work purposes since they were installed.

    Neither of us has yet to receive a ticket.

  6. I commuted the same camera intersections for over a year in my town without getting a ticket, until the city shortened up the yellow light and I violated the light by about 2 tenths of a second while turning right. Of course, it actually wasn’t really my ticket even though I was driving, the owner of the vehicle in Florida got the ticket. Here is another example, a funeral procession with police escorts in view of the video got ticketed even after the “carefull” review of the video by the local PD. I guess they were all just those darn criminal red light runners and law breakers right?

  7. I have proof that a Bremerton officer does not review the tickets prior to Redflex issuing the ticket. The proof is in that Officer Miller was not even on duty the day the ticket was signed and dated (his supposed statement was under penalty of purjury).
    I do not live in Bremerton. If Redflex designed and installed their signs in accordance to the law then maybe my driver would of been warned he/she was entering a ZONE where these scam cams are used. At that point he/she could of made the decision to slam on the brakes risking a rear end collision instead they made the safest decision to continue thru the yellow light. As they crossed Redflex’s sensors (traffic signal actuators) the yellow time was cut short and they were forced across the line by 27/100th of a second. (redflex replaced the City sensors with their own, just ask Mike Mecham.) It is a rigged scam.
    By responding to the ticket you are volunteering to partake in the scam…..just ask Koontz. State Law requires traffic infractions to be served and issued by an officer in person or by the court. These tickets are issued and served by a for profit co. in Arizona under the color of law. The City allows an unqualified and unapointed subcontractor “judge” to wear a judges robe and “inforce” the ticket.
    The ticket does not even go on the municipal court books, it is comletely seperate from the court system. The Redlight enforcement program is completely owned, operated and maintained by a private company. The only thing the city does is allow Redflex to operate under thier name and provide the fake judge and officer miller initials. When Redflex recieves the money they then pay the City it’s cut.

    Redflex even provides legal advice to the City so that the City can defend the Redflex system. (Just read the contract)

    If you appeal the ticket to superior court, you will go before Judge Laurie, her husband is a former Bremerton City Councilman, she has served on the same comitte as Mayor Lent to elect Wolfe instead of BMC judge Docter. Judge Laurie was also a Bremerton attorney since the early 80’s. Finally, she will rule in favor of the CITY without even the explenation of why….draw your own conclusions.

    Speaking from experience, I have concluded the entire system is a scam.
    It makes me sick to think the City, the court and the police dept. knowingly allow this scam to continue.

  8. Thanks, Paradyne64, excellent link.

    Here something else said by an ex Law Enforcement officer and now a Representative, Cristopher Hurst. “It’s like crack cocaine for cities,” Hurst said. “They get this revenue, and all of a sudden it’s ‘How can we get more?’”

    So, Josh when are you going to do a real story about the City of Bremerton and thier “crack” addiction? Public records are a good place to start and I’ve also pointed out some serious local aspects to look into. Fake BMC judges and lying BPD cops…..

    Read more:

  9. That is taking $443,639 out of the economy from the bremerton area.We could hire three cops to set there 24hr a day for less that that and the money would stay in Bremerton area.

  10. The City of Bremerton allows an unqualified and unappointed subcontractor “judge” to wear a judges robe and “inforce” the Redflex ticket.

    Do you even read this stuff Josh?

  11. Here’s another story about those upstanding camera companies that only care about our safety.

    Washington: Traffic Camera Company Runs Press Relations for Lynnwood
    Lynnwood, Washington employees market red light cameras for private company. Company writes responses for city.

    In Dayton, TX the city council was going to have the citizens vote on whether or not they wanted red light cameras installed before they proceeded. The camera company they were dealing with was so upset they would let the citizens vote on it that they stood the council up at the meeting they were supposed to give their presentation to.

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