Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Getting the Boot

If your car is photographed by a Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. camera running a red light, the owner of that car becomes liable for a traffic violation. At least, that's what the Toledo city government would like you to believe. The trouble with this is that the city government is wrong. Consider that in criminal violations of the traffic law an individual is arrested by a law enforcement officer who has seen the violation and (in most cases) a traffic ticket is issued. The accused can begin the tedious procedure known as due process. Tedious for everyone except a person who is wrongfully accused and found not guilty.

The city government of Toledo and its cat's paw Police Chief Mike Navarre espouse that red light cameras are being used to make the streets of Toledo a safer place for everyone. Opponents of red light cameras counter argue that this isn't true, that the motivation behind the red light cameras is revenue for the barren city tax coffers. I've got news for both groups: one does not preclude the other.

One absolutely infamous intersection in Toledo is Secor at Monroe street. Prior to the installation of red light cameras at this intersection Northbound traffic on Secor wanting to make a left turn onto Monroe street would wait for their green arrow, then continue to wait as two or three more cars deliberately ran the red light to make a left from Monroe to Southbound Secor road. Drivers did this because they knew that the chance of getting stopped for a moving violation was slim to none, and the chance of getting hit by another car was even slimmer.

After red light cameras were installed I was waiting to make that left turn to Monroe street and when the light changed I saw something I never thought I'd see – an empty intersection. What a relief to not have to wait for drivers that are too arrogant to wait their turn in line. Does this make the intersection safer? Maybe, maybe not. I'll tell you what though, it has gone a long way towards alleviating road rage.

At the same time The Blade reveals that “Some of that money is owed to Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Arizona. In 2008, the city approved a five-year agreement with the company to continue operating the cameras. The deal increased the share of revenue the city receives from 25 percent to 54.2 percent.”

I would accept this as conclusive evidence that implementing these traffic enforcement cameras was motivated in a large part by additional revenue. If not, why would the city of Toledo get any revenue at all? The cameras cost the city nothing to maintain, and the 'fine' for violators must make camera profitable. If not, Redflex would have filed bankruptcy years ago, and they haven't. In fact they seem to be doing pretty well, financially speaking.

The problem with this automated traffic law enforcement system is that the city government would like everyone to believe that when they receive a red light violation in the mail they are involved in a criminal case, and that isn't true. The case falls into civil court. To get around this, the government disposed of the pesky 'due process' rule that is supposed to hold the government in check. This plan worked pretty well for a while, until a few malcontent activists pointed out that what the government was doing was unconstitutional and accused violators didn't have to pay the fine. When a few brave souls tried this novel method of declining to pay and were successful, others followed suite. Now the problem isn't violating our Constitutional Rights so much as it is practical collection. The solution? Bring in the police.

From The Blade: Toledo City Council last night authorized police to tow or immobilize a person's vehicle by putting a "boot" on it if the owner fails to pay red-light or speed-camera tickets.

Critics of this decision are quick to point out that this is unconstitutional, and the critics are quite correct. Many critics wonder, with a great deal of frustration, just why city councilmen don't understand the Constitution and specifically question why councilmen have this incredible blind spot. The critics don't get it. The Toledo City Council understands perfectly well. The City Council doesn't care. Even the two who voted against this high handed violation, Ludeman and Webb, don't care about the citizen's Constitutional rights.

From The Blade: Councilmen Rob Ludeman and Lindsay Webb voted against the plan. "The process of sending officers to boot cars will put a greater strain on the police department," Ms. Webb said. Under the law, which takes effect in 30 days, police will be able to immobilize a vehicle after a fine has gone unpaid for 21 days.

So according to Ms. Webb if Toledo had enough police on the street this would be a perfectly acceptable law enforcement action instead of the unconstitutional act it really is. Go read the United States Constitution, Ms. Webb, and pay particular attention to the Bill of Rights.

I like the effect that red-light cameras provide. I enjoy seeing a clear intersection when I get the green arrow at Secor and Monroe. I am not willing to exchange my civil rights for a clear intersection or an increase in city tax money.

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