Thursday, 25 August 2011 18:25

New Orleans, Not Houston, We Have A Problem With Red Light Cameras

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red light cameraCongratulations to the courageous members of the Houston, TX City Council who followed the will of the people and voted yesterday to end the obnoxious and illegal red light cameras.

The movement to ban these cameras is growing nationwide. A month ago Los Angeles made the same move, noting that the cameras were costing too much money.

 There are many valid reasons why these cameras should be banned. While claiming to be about public safety, the cameras are only about generating money from motorists. Mayors love the cameras because they help fill holes in the budget. The money is collected from motorists and then is split between the municipality, the parent corporation and the consultants who are enriched by this unseemly process. In fact, one of the major red light camera companies is based in Australia, which means our ticket revenue flows out of this country to fatten the bottom line of a foreign corporation.  

What about the supposed safety benefits? Many studies have shown that the cameras actually cause more rear-end collisions as motorists jam on their brakes to avoid a ticket. In addition, there are serious constitutional questions that are raised by these cameras. The program smacks of “Big Brother” government and is an invasion of privacy as photographs of vehicles are taken without permission. Usually, the cameras do not photograph the driver of the vehicle, but the ticket is sent to the owner of the car. The owner is presumed guilty and has to prove his or her innocence. There is no constitutional due process in these cases, so multiple lawsuits have been successfully filed throughout the country. In Minnesota, the Supreme Court weighed the evidence and decided to strike down the red light program in Minneapolis.

Fighting these tickets takes time and money that most citizens do not have. The program survives because motorists do not want to expend the energy to fight the unfair system. People throughout the country know the true motivation of this program. In more and more communities, when given a chance at the ballot box, voters have banned these cameras. 

Last November, by a margin of 52-48 percent, voters in Houston decided to ban the red light cameras. Unfortunately, the politicians raced to a courthouse to throw out the will of the people. In June, a judge ruled that the ballot initiative was illegal. Instead of a situation where the majority ruled, this was a case where the politicians, consultants and corporate executives mattered most. Fortunately, the Houston City Council rectified the situation by abiding by the will of the voters and banning the cameras. 

If only the people of New Orleans were given the same opportunity as the people of Houston. Instead, the red light and speed cameras are spreading like toxic mold in more areas of the city. One camera at the intersection of Marconi and Harrison Avenue in New Orleans issues tickets to motorists driving over 20 miles per hour even though there is no signage indicating the reduced speed limit

The program is also fraught with controversy in New Orleans. A politically connected group of police officers were being paid to “review” the video evidence to see who should get tickets. This expensive program allowed friends and family members of NOPD Police Chief Ronal Serpas to earn significant extra income. Fortunately, the “detail” operation was uncovered and shutdown, but with the massive amounts of money involved in the red light camera program abuses should surprise no one.

Last spring a bill in the Louisiana Legislature to allow voters the opportunity to decide the issue failed because politicians like New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu lobbied for the bill to be killed. Landrieu is expecting $23 million in ticket revenue for this year’s budget. He knows that without that growing source of revenue, he will have to make serious cuts to the budget that he does not want to make. In the meantime, the people of New Orleans are paying a form of taxation that they no role in determining.

If given the right to vote, the people of New Orleans would likely join Houston and Los Angeles and ban these cameras. In New Orleans, tickets can range up to $200, but in Los Angeles, it was much worse, as motorists had to pay up to $500 for red light camera tickets. It is amazing that even with such outrageous ticket prices; the program was not making a profit in Los Angeles.

It is time to end the charade about this program, which is not about public safety and is a pure and simple money grab. People in other communities around the nation are getting a chance to decide the issue, why not the people of New Orleans? 

Jeff CrouereJeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m.weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. For more information, visit his web site at E-mail him at [email protected].

The opinions expressed above are those of this columnist and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publishers of or any of its writers or anyone associated with this publication.  


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