Ever wonder why, with all those "red light cameras" installed across the nation, no city involved in using them has reported any big decrease in accidents at the affected intersections or even any significant income gain? In fact, in Los Angeles yesterday, it was revealed, after a city-wide audit, that the 32 red light cameras installed throughout Los Angeles have actually cost the taxpayers some $2.6 million just the past two years.
You'd think that with the tickets in the LA program costing around $500 a pop, there'd be at least a little spiff for some city program...like for the city's desperate school system or the libraries which Mayor Antonio Villaragosa has shut down.
Incidentally, San Diego has also decided to take action against the installers and maintainers of their red light camera system, having experienced some of the same problems Los Angeles has just revealed.
In one fell swoop, Los Angeles found out yesterday that almost 1/2 of all red light tickets go unpaid with the driver not needing to fear any reprisals, that the placement of LA's red light cameras was purely decided on a political, not a safety, basis and that the city gets only about $150 from the $500 tickets (those that are paid) with the rest going to the state and the majority going to the company which installed and maintains the red light camera systems.
According to Rich Connell in yesterday's Los Angeles Times: "Some 45% of Los Angeles' red-light camera tickets are currently unpaid, partly because holds are not placed on driver's licenses and vehicle registrations for unsettled photo enforcement infractions, Los Angeles officials said Wednesday.
The disclosure came as City Controller Wendy Greuel issued an audit finding the photo enforcement program bypassed some of the city's most dangerous intersections and is costing the city more than $1 million a year to operate, despite fines and fees that can exceed $500.
LAPD officials said they learned during the audit that the state Department of Motor Vehicles has not been forcing payment of delinquent red-light camera fines during license and registration renewals. Other types of unpaid citations typically must be paid before renewals are granted, noted Police Chief Charlie Beck, who appeared with Greuel at a news conference under a downtown red-light camera.
It was not immediately clear why red-light camera tickets would be treated differently, although one LAPD official noted motorists do not sign promises to appear in court when photo citations are issued. A DMV spokesman said he had to check into the matter.
Among other changes, Beck and Greuel said the city, which is planning to expand the program beginning next year, should focus camera enforcement on the most dangerous intersections in the city. Both noted that the current placement of cameras at 32 intersections was driven partly by politics and a desire to have at least one red-light camera in each of the city's 15 council districts.
"We should deploy them like any other officer" based on public safety needs, Beck said.
The audit also found that the LAPD had not developed data that conclusively shows the cameras have improved public safety. It noted that half of the intersections equipped with cameras showed no reductions in accidents in one study. Beck agreed better analysis is needed, but strongly defended the program, saying it has cut fatalities at the targeted intersections.
There have been no traffic deaths at the intersections since cameras were installed, he said. Based on previous trends, "we would have had 10 fatalities," he added. "This is why we were interested in red-light cameras in the first place."
Beck stressed that the program is not intended to make money. But he and other officials hope to improve the program's financial footing when a new contract to operate the cameras is issued next year." (End of Times story)
This scandal came to light several months ago when that LAPD report showing no improvement in accident rates at many of the intersections, was released to the public. Several local news reporters, print and electronic, went over the internal audit and found it appeared that not only were accident rates not declining at these intersections, but both the city and the public seemed to be paying for a service which was providing no benefit for them.
Soon after the story hit the papers and the airwaves, City Controller Wendy Greuel, who no doubt saw a great story on which to grandstand, also made clear she has the power to order the changes discussed in the Times' story, as she controls many of the city's purse strings.
So for those who have red light cameras in their city and have been wondering if they are at all effective, the third-biggest city in the nation has the answer: No.
Deployed correctly, could they do a better job? Or have these highly-expensive and difficult-to-maintain systems been a boondoggle since the beginning; are they old technology which companies are trying to sell as 21st century capable? Finally, and perhaps most important, if nearly 50% of the tickets issued in Los Angeles have gone unpaid because the "accused" never signs a "promise to appear" and it's impossible for a citizen to cross-examine a camera in court should they challenge the ticket, is it at all possible (or necessary) for the law to regress to the point where some Kodak Brownie mounted on a light pole determines the innocence or very expensive guilt of a Los Angeles driver?