Not-so-candid cameras

Not-so-candid cameras

In Chicago, the camera doesn't lie, except when it does.

The city of Chicago has a big scandal — yes, another one..

It involves the city's red-light camera traffic enforcement program and bribes allegedly paid by Redflex Traffic Systems for the lucrative contract. A federal indictment released last week reveals some juicy tidbits about who allegedly did what and paid whom.

But less attention has been paid to the scandal before the scandal — the red-light cameras themselves.

Falsely billed as a public safety program, red-lights cameras in Chicago — and elsewhere — are all about generating revenue for municipal coffers. Evidence now shows shows that someone manipulated the cameras in a way to ticket people who did nothing wrong, thereby generating even more money in fines.

Red-light cameras — the traffic enforcement system in many cities that photographs motorists who run red lights — have generated $500 million in fines in $100 tickets for the city of Chicago. In a cash-strapped city in a cash-strapped state, that's nothing to sneeze at.

It's extremely difficult for a ticketed motorist to defend himself against a red-light ticket. So when most people get their tickets a month later, alleging they rolled through a stop light they can't even remember, the only thing to do is swear audibly and pay up. In other words, people are easy pickin's.

Consequently, many big cities want the cameras because they want a new source of easy revenue, and companies that sell the systems want the contract to install them. It's a great deal for both.

But manipulation of the Chicago system has shown that some cameras were configured to set yellow lights shorter than the 3-second minimum, generating more tickets to generate more revenue.

In other words, it's a scam. How appropriate for the City of Big Shoulders.

Does any municipally designed con better demonstrate what amounts to a conspiracy by elected officials against the citizens they represent? Nothing about the system is trustworthy, not even the operation of the cameras themselves.

Some people write this off as "the Chicago way." It is peculiarly rancid in a way that only Illinoisans can appreciate. But the system itself is rotten — promoted under a false pretense and easily manipulated to fill municipal coffers by theft.

These cameras are not just a menace — they're a red menace that must be deposited on the ash heap of history.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on August 17, 2014 at 11:08 pm
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Why are you guys blaming the equipment?


That's like saying "guns kill people." Can we expect an opinion calling for the banning of guns?