Seeing Red Over Red Light Cameras

Ever since red light cameras were introduced to the State of Louisiana, scandals and corruption have followed. The cameras are advertised as a public safety measure, but it seems the real reason is to make lots of money for everyone involved.

With thousands of these tickets being issued, the municipalities make money; high priced consultants make money, the out of state parent company makes money and in New Orleans, connected police officers make money. In fact, Redflex, one of the largest camera companies is based in Australia, so Louisiana motorists are helping to make foreigners rich.

The big losers are the motorists who are slapped with high priced tickets that can top $200 each. Motorists have very little due process and are presumed guilty in a hearing that is stacked against them. The municipalities and camera companies assume that most hard working people will have better things to do than contest a ticket. Yet, mistakes happen all the time. One resident who lives on Jackson Avenue in New Orleans started to receive tickets from a traffic camera every time a speeding car passed by his car, which was legally parked in front of his house.

I guess Anytime Solutions, Inc., the vendor used by the City of New Orleans to review the traffic camera tickets, missed the mistake. This vendor hired close associates of NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas, as well as his son-in-law, and billed a serious amount for their services. The company charged up to $10,000 twice a month for their ticket reviews. Of course, all of this “work” should have been done by on-duty officers. It was just another scam, like so many others associated with this program.

New Orleans should follow the lead of their neighbor to the west, Jefferson Parish, which made the right decision to remove all of their cameras. Unfortunately, New Orleans is moving in the opposite direction and installing more cameras on a regular basis. The red light camera disease is spreading throughout the state of Louisiana. Currently, Crowley is considering a request from their Police Chief to install the red light cameras in their community. Already, the cameras are in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Orleans, and smaller communities like Gretna, Westwego, Zachary, and Baker.

The cameras are also invasive and give government another opportunity to “monitor” the citizens. This Orwellian “big brother” aspect of the cameras troubles many Louisiana residents. Yet, the deeper issue involves the mountains of money and how it is misused. In New Orleans, $18 million will be collected in 2011 and the total ticket revenue will account for about 7.5 percent of the city’s budget.

Instead of all funds going toward legitimate law enforcement, vendors and consultants are getting a piece of the pie. In Louisiana, whenever there is a pot of money, trouble usually follows.

The NOPD scandal is just the latest evidence of the trail of corruption that follows these cameras all over the country. Some cities have made the logical decision to ban the cameras completely. In the Louisiana Legislature, there are a number of bills to either ban the cameras or mandate a vote of the people in a community before they can be installed.

Politicians know that if the people have a say, the cameras will never be approved, which is why New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and others oppose such legislation. Yet, with cameras that are unconstitutional, fraught with scandal, a vote of the people is the least that can be done.

It is time that our politicians became creative and were forced to do more with less money. Keeping this money in the hands of the people is a much better alternative than sending a huge chunk of it out of state and even out of the country, as well as making vendors and consultants rich.

If law enforcement personnel want to curtail traffic accidents at certain intersections, the best answer is not to install red light cameras, but to increase the length of the yellow light. This easy step has been shown to be much more effective than cameras, which can cause rear end collisions and a host of other accidents caused by motorists trying to avoid the tickets.

Overall the many problems associated with these cameras outweigh their supposed benefits. It is time for the Louisiana Legislature to withstand the lobbyists and political pressure and put the people of the state back in charge.

Jeff Crouere is the Host of “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. He is the Political Analyst for WGNO-TV ABC26 and a Columnist for selected publications. For more information, visit his web site at E-mail him at [email protected].



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