Camera Enforcement Tools

Frank Borelli
Editor-in-Chief
Officer.com

Have any of you seen the movie, "Demolition Man" starring Sylvester Stallone? It's a wonderfully imaginative science-fiction movie in which every human being is tagged with a microchip embedded in their skin. If anyone commits a violation of law (such as violating the "morality statue" by cussing) their bank account is automatically debited a specified fine amount. In the movie, Stallone's character refers to this as "fascist". What scares me is that we may well indeed be on our way to such a system. Maybe I'm just blowing things out of proportion, and that's why I type this out - to solicit comment and input. I remember going through the police academy and then RADAR operator's training and then LASER operator training... and it seems to me that every time I turned around I was being told about how many things I had to do just perfectly so and then how I had to testify against them just to get someone found guilty of speeding in court. Now I turn around and there are RADER and Red light cameras, automatically triggered, and it's a whole different world. I remember when Red light cameras first were being set up. I remember the conversations around the station at the agency I worked for at the time: it revolved around how much money could be made by putting them in. Very little discussion was had about whether or not they were legal; defendable; constitutional, etc. I was just as guilty as the next guy. All I could think about was how much our budget would go up if we had all the revenue these cameras were going to produce. At the time, my father was a district court judge and he spent several hours explaining to me how the cameras were legal under civil law. My quandary was in separating the civil infraction issued against a vehicle from the criminal citation issued to an individual. With red light cameras I guess I didn't have a lot of trouble. The camera snapped a number of pictures starting just before the light turned red and continued while the moving vehicle went past the white line or intersection barrier after the light was red. Somewhere, though, an imperfect human being had to look at those pictures and decide whether or not a violation had actually occurred. If so, then the letter with the fine amount was sent. If not, then the photos were set aside for records. Where I had a problem was the assumption of guilt based on the photo evidence, and the fact that rights of defense didn't apply because it was a civil action, not criminal, therefore different rules applied. Then along came speeding cameras. My understanding got worse. A camera which depends on a RADAR system to cite my speed takes photos and I get a letter for the infraction with a fine attached. Whether I was the driver or not, I'm held responsible for the violation committed in my vehicle (same as with red light cameras). So my best friend says to me, "Isn't this like me driving your car with you in the passenger seat and when I get pulled over for speeding the cop writes YOU a ticket?" Um... well... yes... I mean no... I mean... it's not criminal; it's civil, so it's okay. Huh? Call me as confused as ever. I see the obvious strength of these enforcement tools. Once they become public knowledge then speeding and red light violations will be significantly reduced in their proximity. I see the obvious revenue benefits to be had by a municipality, county or state (?) generated by these civil violations that bring with them a presumption of guilt and easily projectable fines. On the other hand, I see my best friend's point: how can I be held responsible for his actions? The car can't commit a violation all on its own. It doesn't drive itself. Now, the day my car drives itself through a red light I'll more than happily pay the fine - and immediately sell the car. But in the meantime... What do you all think about this? What about business, city, county, state or federally owned vehicles? Who should pay those fines? With these camera enforcement tools there are a lot of assumptions that get made, against which we have no protections under the law. How do you all feel about that? I'm looking for all comments, both pro and con.

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