By: T F Stern
T F Stern’s Rantings
The City of Houston put itself in an interesting predicament, caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, through a series of blunders related to Red Light Camera Ticket Enforcement. Red light cameras were installed, ostensibly as a public safety measure, but in reality they were installed to generate revenue for the city and a private contractor, a private contractor who only required a percentage of the “take” according to the contract entered into.
The citizens of Houston voted the arrangement down, but only after a contract had been signed and put in place. Too long a time period having elapsed for such a referendum to be voted upon by the citizenry. The Mayor flip flopped, perhaps a political brain cramp, and decided the contract took precedent over the will of the citizens and had the cameras turned back on to issue more tickets in order to avoid litigation by the company which maintained the mechanical devices. City Council, having observed an uncomfortable amount of heat directed towards the Mayor’s Office which would eventually include all City Council members coming up for re-election, decided to put it to a vote according to an article by Gabe Gutierrez of KHOU 11 News.
“Council members first passed a non-binding resolution to take the cameras down, but then took it a step further – outlawing them in the City of Houston.”
Wonderful, we’re out of one frying pan and back into the other.
“They’ll be fighting the manufacturer of the cameras, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), in court over breach-of-contract claims.”
Here’s how to “fix” the mess without having ATS sue the city for gobs of money they think they’re entitled; keep issuing red light camera tickets. That’s right, keep issuing tickets until the cows come home, but instead of demanding violators pay an automatic fine, have specific wording on each ticket indicating payments are strictly voluntary based on an individual’s “civic responsibility” or conscious desire to do what is right.
There could be additional explanations which point to the fact the city could not produce witnesses to the event in a court of law, at least none that actually observed the running of the red light. Certified Police Officers who review the images on film were not present at the time of the violation and it would certainly be difficult, if not impossible to put a mechanical device on the witness stand should a defendant demand his/her right to cross examination, a time honored and established legal procedure. Judges would be instructed to dismiss any and all challenges to camera issued tickets; no revenue produced and fairly expensive to maintain such a system.
Eventually ATS would look at the bottom line of their “investment” and declare the “for profit venture” a failure. They would bow out of the business quietly. The City of Houston would have honored its original contract and the citizens would eventually see red light traffic camera devices vanish like a bad dream when the sun comes over the horizon.
The lesson, we need to stay within long established legal boundaries requiring human witnesses to testify in our civil and criminal courts. Witnesses must be available for cross-examination instead of turning things over to mechanical devices. Returning to these necessary limits would work for Houston and other municipalities where traffic ticket enforcement is based on revenue generation rather than the public’s safety. Remember, the first concern voiced by our city leaders after red light cameras were voted down wasn’t the safety of our citizens, it was how to make up the loss of revenue!
Folks who run red lights are a real danger to society, please don’t read anything into what I’ve said. Just make sure we enforce the law in a fair, just and lawful manner. Those who run red lights put lives and property at risk and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but only if the violation can be proven in a court of law with real live witnesses, one of whom would normally be a uniformed police officer who observed the incident in person.
This article has been cross-posted to The Moral Liberal, a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government & The American Constitution.”