Unplug the traffic cameras – a.k.a. Napolitano’s folly.
As Arizona’s new immigration law continues to send liberals into unintelligible hysterics, a state law enforcement agency has taken another step that ought to keep them upset for at least a few more days. This week, the Arizona Department of Safety notified its speeding camera contractor that the controversial program will be discontinued this summer.
In September of 2008, Arizona contracted with a company called Redflex to set up cameras on state highways and photograph vehicles that hit a speed at least 11 miles per hour faster than the posted limit. It was the first state in the nation to use cameras to ticket speeders on state highways. The move was, of course, a revenue-raising measure. Each vehicle’s registered owner would receive in the mail a ticket for $181.50.
But it didn’t work as planned. The New York Times reported this past January that revenues were far short of expectations, in part because people simply refused to pay the tickets. In their first year, the cameras generated 700,000 tickets, which made the scheme a victim of its own success. In Arizona, if a person ignores a ticket received in the mail, process servers have 120 days to serve the ticket in person. If they don’t, it is invalidated.
With 700,000 tickets to keep up with, the state couldn’t possibly serve each recipient. When people found out they could ignore the tickets with no consequences, what would have been $127 million in revenue for the state shrank to only $36.8 million, according to the Times.
The tickets might not have slowed drivers, but they did slow the wheels of justice. The courts were clogged with citizens challenging their tickets. Which means that a plot to use the justice system to raise revenue wound up hampering justice. And that is important because the speed camera scheme was initiated by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, now U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. She had planned to raise $120 million a year with those 100 cameras.
Tickets generated by the cameras bought significantly lower fines than tickets issued by an officer on the scene — $181.50 vs. $320. And the camera-generated tickets put no points on a driver’s license. Clearly, this wasn’t about getting dangerous drivers off the road. It was about money. Napolitano, facing a budget deficit, thought this would help close it.
The program was so unpopular , though, that citizens were able to get a ballot initiative to repeal it this November. No, that doesn’t really capture the depth of anger people felt at having their driving habits monitored statewide by Big Brother. Let me try again. The program was so unpopular that it inspired people to sabotage the cameras. One guy donned a monkey mask to repeatedly set the cameras off. Another smashed one to pieces. There were reports of lenses being covered with Post-It notes and Silly String.
Thanks to public resistance, the cameras will be removed on July 16, the day after the two-year contract with the operator expires. Opponents can claim a victory won with civil disobedience. And a monkey mask.
As for national ramifications, officials in other states might be discouraged from attempting to balance their budgets with speed cameras anytime soon. Red light cameras continue to proliferate (they go statewide in Florida soon if Gov. Charlie Crist doesn’t veto a bill just passed to allow that). States and municipalities hungry for revenue in this recession would love to have it without raising taxes, and these types of automatic ticketing schemes are popular with lots of politicians. A failure of the nation’s first experiment with speed cameras could at least slow the expansion somewhat.
There is even a Washington angle to all of this, and that is this. It says something about the Obama administration that the president would elevate the creator of this outrageous law enforcement scheme to head the Department of Homeland Security, but would denounce Arizona’s effort to have its officers enforce long-standing federal immigration laws. The president sees nothing wrong with using the criminal justice system as a vice to squeeze money from citizens, but thinks it’s terrible for citizens to demand that the system be used catch, process and return illegal immigrants.