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Jeff Ward: Patchland! Rise Up and Throw Off Those Red-Light-Camera Shackles!

George Orwell was right!

All that whooping and hollering you just heard was me! I couldn’t help but get a little excited over Houston, TX, removing every last one of its 70 red-light cameras.

Despite a despicable legal attack and being outspent 10-to-1, a citizen’s group started by two brothers got the removal measure on the ballot and then prevailed. Not one to admit defeat, the camera company tried a last-ditch legal end run and, when the city council wouldn’t buckle, sued Houston for $25 million.

It’s all about safety, isn’t it!

That second round of loud applause you heard was also me. After calling every single West Suburban Patch police department, I was astonished to find that only four cities—, St. Charles, Lisle and Western Springs—employ the heinous devices.

Obviously, there’s a direct correlation between Patch news outlets and smart police chiefs.

And no, I haven’t! The fricken’ first question pro-camera police chiefs always ask me is, “Where did you get your red-light ticket?” I’ve had just one moving violation in the last 30 years, so this has nothing to do with getting even.

“Well then, Jeff! What is about red light cameras that sets you off more than fire pits and toll hikes?” I’m glad you asked!

1. They’re unconstitutional. Despite the fact those cameras take pictures of the vehicle and not the driver, it’s the registered owner that gets the ticket. Call me crazy, but I don’t remember “guilty until proven innocent” anywhere in the Constitution. So you either pay the fine or rat out the driver.

Next time it happens, I’d bill the city officials for doing their police work for them.

Then there’s the interesting “due process” interpretation. Typically, fighting a red-light ticket means going before the very police department that issued it! No conflict of interest there! And if you do fight the ticket and lose, in some cities, you pay double the fine. Silly me! I thought extortion was illegal.

And finally, I thought we called any private company that profited from a crime “the mob.”

2. They don’t make us safer. Los Angeles just shut down their cameras because, as their police commission put it, “they don’t make traffic safer.”

In this , The Western Springs Police Department bragged about how well their new cameras were working. But in , they released new data that showed accidents at the photo-enforced intersections of Ogden Avenue and Wolf Road and 55th Street and Wolf had actually increased by 190 percent!

In their 2010 annual report, the WSPD touted a 10 percent villagewide reduction in car crashes, but then claimed a jump from 11 to 21 accidents at those two intersections wasn’t statistically significant. Take if from this psych major who had to take three statistics courses, it is.

If these cameras really made us drive more safely, the companies that profit from them would already be out of business.

3. It’s a tax. Maybe those Western Springs cameras aren’t working out so well, because 95 percent of the tickets they issue are for right-on-red violations, despite the fact the sloppiest of right-on-red turns rarely cause an accident.

That’s right! In general, two-thirds of all suburban red-light-camera tickets go to right-on-red violators, most for failing to come to a complete stop. This has nothing to do with safety, it’s just another tax.

4. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Should you fight your red-light ticket, as previously mentioned, you don’t get to go before a judge who has no dog in the fight, you plead your case in front of a police department or municipal hearing officer who’s paid by the very municipality that stands to benefit from the fine.

Do I really need to explain the inherent problems with that “undue” process?

Ironically, Western Springs actually loses money on its camera installations which, when you consider the previous statistics, makes me wonder why they’re still there.

5. Shameless camera company shenanigans. Here’s what I want you to do. Go to the Illinois State Board of Elections website and type “Redspeed” at the donor name prompt. Then click on “search.” You’ll see that Redspeed, the culprit behind most of our local cameras, has contributed $87,000 to Illinois politicians since 2008.

And remember, that doesn’t include lobbyists, their campaigns against mayors who dare to take ‘em down, or the police chief beer picnics these companies love to host.

But all is not lost, folks! Like our rebellious Houstonians, we too can fight back. When the cameras were introduced in Bolingbrook, the backlash was so intense they took ‘em down after six short months. It’s amazing how quickly things change when you threaten to vote the rascals out of office.

When the camera at Meachem and Woodfield Roads generated $1 million in right-on-red fines in just two months, so many shoppers threatened to boycott Woodfield Mall that Schaumburg quickly abandoned it. It seems that one camera-happy city finally grasped the notion that you can’t get a right-on-red ticket shopping online.

So, for Elmhurst, Wheaton, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Burr Ridge, Glen Ellyn and Batavia, I’m officially designating Monday as “Hug your City Council Rep and Police Chief Day.” Please try not to get tasered.

I’ll let St. Charles off the hook to some degree because, at least for now, they won’t write a right-on-red ticket unless it’s utterly egregious. But the sad thing for cities like Geneva, Lisle and Western Springs is, every time you issue a camera citation, for all of the reasons I’ve already listed, you’re destroying the faith we’d all love to have in our law-enforcement agencies.

And once that trust is gone, you’ll never get it back.

Michelle Smith September 04, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Are you kidding me with this?Mabey you should get mad about illegal aliens coming in to our country and getting public aid,education, and free health care while most of our citizens can't. Families come in to the country lying saying they aren't married and boom they get public aid. Why get mad about a violation that's caught on a camera. Yes it's upsetting to get a ticket in the mail but then be extra careful. Yes it sucks but don't you think that cops pull people over and give bogus tickets all time? If you don't your fooling yourself. My advice to all you people stay out of Carol StreAm because those cops do give out bogus tickets. At least with the camera you know for sure you did what your actually being acused of. Pay the fine and quit complaining because you broke the law. And you can say that accidents have increased but what you can't say is how many were prevented from the camera. Mabey lives were saved because it slowed someone down. You know there could be a learning curve here people that drive like idiots in the first place can still get into accidents until they learn that red means stop not accelerate. Dont get me wrong here I love how charged up you are about this just pick a bigger issue.
Patty Wagner September 05, 2011 at 03:09 AM
My phone's GPS now announces when an intersection with a red light camera is coming up. I love that.
mikew October 08, 2011 at 01:28 AM
Late spring I received a red light violation ticket. I fought and today I received the results, $0 due = it was dropped. I fought it via the mail and never had to appear. I wrote up an brief the showed that the Illinois code does not allow redlight vendors to be paid per ticket issued. I then showed that the Lake County contract with REDLIGHT contradicts Illinois code in that cost to Lake County is nothing. Lake County will not pay anything to REDLIGHT if there are no tickets issued. This relates to the ticket being dropped. YOU can get the contract of the issuing PD via and open records request via online. I fought it and won and so can you.
Just a "Citizen" December 23, 2011 at 04:34 PM
My 77 year old mother got one last week in Villa Park for a incomplete stop/right on red coming out of Wal-Mart onto 83 SB. Yet the Villa Park police let a guy panhandle over by that light for almost 2 years. That is the reason my mother rolled the stop. She does not want beggars coming up to her car. It makes her feel unsafe. Does the Villa Park Police do anything about the panhandler? No, that would require actually doing their jobs and moving the guy along in PERSON instead of collecting money while in bed with some people who just take a cut of the revenue from these "1984" cameras. My mom and myself will NEVER go to that Wal-Mart again. I am going to write The Walmart Corporate office and show them these comments and others. That is how you get things to happen. Wal-Mart has to make one call and the bum and cameras will be gone. That used to be a nice store until Villa Park dropped the ball. Right before Christmas, it's not about revenue. Yeah Right.
Rachel Abata December 23, 2011 at 06:05 PM
That guy that panhandles by the Walmart is harmless, if you've known he's been there for 2 years you should know he NEVER approaches vehicles unless someone rolls down their window to help this man. I understand that maybe your mother didn't know that, but don't blame the man that panhandles for your mothers ticket...the law is the law, look at you blaming everyone for her ticket...what the hell is Walmart going to do about the cameras? It wasn't their choice to install them so I doubt it'll be their decision to have them removed. How exactly did Villa Park ruin Walmart? That store is awful already, it didn't need a traffic camera to ruin it, their customers do a good job on their own.

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