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.