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Red light camera tickets begin again tomorrow

Drive appropriately. You have been warned.

Houston police will begin issuing red-light camera citations Sunday at 50 intersections around the city, the latest maneuver in a protracted court battle over the controversial but lucrative traffic surveillance system.

Police Chief Charles McClelland has decided to start with a “clean slate,“ explaining he will not issue citations to red-light runners who were recorded after the cameras were turned back on July 9. Mayor Annise Parker ordered the cameras to resume recording after a federal judge struck down the November referendum that saw 53 percent of voters reject the program.

“We have been working very hard to make sure our infrastructure is put back in place, and we are up and running and ready to go,” McClelland said Thursday. “As of 12:01 (a.m.), July 24, the Houston Police Department will start back issuing citations to motorists who run red lights at intersections that have digital red-light cameras.”

McClelland also said an existing contract with the red-light camera vendor allows the city to expand the system, and he plans to add more cameras in the future.

Okay, look. I voted for the cameras. I thought that the election should not have been held, on the grounds that Judge Hughes cited in his ruling. I agree with the decision to turn the cameras back on pending a ruling on what the city’s contractual obligations are. (Any word from Judge Hughes on this yet? The hearing to hash that out was on Wednesday.) But this? No. Even mentioning the possibility of maybe adding more cameras some time down the line can be charitably described as a really lousy idea. The fire’s plenty hot right now, please don’t go adding any fuel to it.

McClelland repeated his strong support of red-light cameras for a Police Department that was forced in recent weeks to cut $40 million from the current year’s budget and lay off 154 civilian employees.

The chief noted that traffic enforcement is a core service the department must provide, but without technology such as surveillance cameras he would be forced to pull officers off of neighborhood patrols.

“The camera can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,“ McClelland said. “The camera does not complain about it being cold or hot. The camera can work in the rain, and the camera does not submit an overtime slip.”

I know everyone’s tired of re-litigating the same issues we argued over ad nauseum last year, but if you’re going to do it anyway, I recommend embracing the budgetary aspect of this, and de-emphasizing the safety aspect. At least everyone agrees that the cameras make the city some money, so the dispute is over whether it’s worth it, not whether it’s true. It’s at least theoretically possible that some people who voted against the cameras because they didn’t buy the safety argument or just didn’t like the idea of having them might be willing to accept them as an alternative to cutting the police budget. Or not – everyone may just be too sick of the whole damn thing by now to be persuaded of anything – but I don’t think anyone’s mind can be changed by the safety argument at this point, so what the hell.

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8 Comments

  1. Agreed Charles, good post. It’s a thumb in the eye of the voters. The chief will teach us to vote against something he wants. Knowing that the city still hasn’t exercised their 4 month out clause, talks about adding more cameras, suggests we can have another vote in 2014 all tells me they have no plans on exercising their options to uphold the vote and end the program. Can they at least please stop telling us that they are trying to figure out how to get out of the contract when it is abundantley clear they aren’t?

  2. Shadowguv says:

    The City will NOT be issuing “citations” as the Chief states because:

    (Repeat after me now)

    They’re not tickets. They’re not citations. There is no due process.
    Driver’s have no responsibility under this scheme. Only the vehicle’s owner is liable.

    Just because the “notice of violation” is on HPD letterhead doesn’t mean is carries the weight of a misdemeanor criminal violation. The Parks and Rec department could just as easily send the letters.

    You’ll never have a warrant issued for failure to pay. You’ll never stand before a Criminal Court Judge to adjudicate the matter, because it’s a request to pay a civil fee.

    City Officials repeatedly use this misleading language to make Citizens think the standard criminal procedure applies. It does not.

  3. Shadowguv says:

    Follow up:

    The City COULD lobby the State Lege to all the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws under the criminal code. Then all of this drama would be moot.

    It’ll never happen.

  4. byron schirmbeck says:

    right, would never happen, because then they would have to change the technology to capture an image of the driver like the do in Cali. Then they would actually have to let a challenge to the tickets into criminal court and raise the fine up to cover all of the additional costs. Then with higher tickets there would be more delinquency. Cali is facing that right now, courts aren’t enforcing the tickets and people aren’t paying because they are over $400.

  5. Looks like city hall put the smack down on the chief’s comments. I still believe his first statement when he was not speaking under duress.

    “While I believe that red light cameras are an efficient and objective use of technology that allow flexibility in the deployment of valuable resources, let me reinforce that there are NO plans to increase the number of cameras. However, the existing cameras may be repositioned to ensure they are monitoring the most dangerous intersections.”

    http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/local&id=8266305

  6. Shadowguv says:

    @ byron: Good comments and update.

    @Kuff and all: Here’s a thought:

    Why don’t we create a parallel “civil fee” for every violation of the Texas Criminal Code (and COH Ordinances). That way we won’t have to worry about the costly and time consuming process of a trial, you know with the various constitutional protections afforded a Citizen.

    Things like, say the 5th Amendment:

    “…nor shall any person … be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

    If every crime is addressed by a parallel civil fee, rather than criminal charge, then we can avoid that pesky protection that allows a Citizen to avoid self incrimination. Of course under the RLC scheme, failure to pay the fee or appear before an “Adjudicative Hearing Officer” is an admission of liability.

    In this wonderful process, the judicial system is effectively skirted as the City has the legal authority to simply declare the violator “liable”. Note that a Court with the appropriate jurisdiction is NOT involved. Nor is a Judge rubber-stamping a default judgement. There is no judgement, because there is NO due process. The entire scheme is conducted completely off the books.

    Why would we Citizens trade away one of our most fundamental constitutional protections for a few dollars per resident, per year in additional revenue? Why?

    By all means, let’s continue to call these “notices” tickets or citations. Lets keep this farce going so the masses will BELIEVE that they’re getting notice of a criminal court sanction.

    All so a handful of elected Officials can avoid “raising” taxes or making the hard spending choices in an almost four billion dollar budget. The COH will spend a billion MORE this year than just a half dozen years ago. A BILLION. The RLC money is a pittance.

    But hey, creating a parallel civil fee scheme makes it easier to get (and stay) elected as you can say that you didn’t raise taxes. At what price? The shredding of our Constitution?

    We can do better.

  7. If you really want to get an idea of who the city is in bed with and want to see just how well that police officer review of each violation is take a look at this. ATS ticketed a funeral procession with a police escort, and what is worse, when it was brought up to them they refused to dismiss the ticket. It wasn’t until the media got involved that they dismissed the tickets. Really? A funeral procession? This is how low this corrupt corporation really is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB2cZqvoOBI&feature=share

  8. byron schirmbeck says:

    Looks like the word is getting out that the camera tickets are unenforceable. Make sure everyone you know gets a link to this website http://www.trashyourticket.com