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Jeff Ward: Patchland! Rise Up and Throw Off Those Red-Light-Camera Shackles!

George Orwell was right!

All that whooping and hollering you just heard was me! I couldn’t help but get a little excited over Houston, TX, removing every last one of its 70 red-light cameras.

Despite a despicable legal attack and being outspent 10-to-1, a citizen’s group started by two brothers got the removal measure on the ballot and then prevailed. Not one to admit defeat, the camera company tried a last-ditch legal end run and, when the city council wouldn’t buckle, sued Houston for $25 million.

It’s all about safety, isn’t it!

That second round of loud applause you heard was also me. After calling every single West Suburban Patch police department, I was astonished to find that only four cities—, St. Charles, Lisle and Western Springs—employ the heinous devices.

Obviously, there’s a direct correlation between Patch news outlets and smart police chiefs.

And no, I haven’t! The fricken’ first question pro-camera police chiefs always ask me is, “Where did you get your red-light ticket?” I’ve had just one moving violation in the last 30 years, so this has nothing to do with getting even.

“Well then, Jeff! What is about red light cameras that sets you off more than fire pits and toll hikes?” I’m glad you asked!

1. They’re unconstitutional. Despite the fact those cameras take pictures of the vehicle and not the driver, it’s the registered owner that gets the ticket. Call me crazy, but I don’t remember “guilty until proven innocent” anywhere in the Constitution. So you either pay the fine or rat out the driver.

Next time it happens, I’d bill the city officials for doing their police work for them.

Then there’s the interesting “due process” interpretation. Typically, fighting a red-light ticket means going before the very police department that issued it! No conflict of interest there! And if you do fight the ticket and lose, in some cities, you pay double the fine. Silly me! I thought extortion was illegal.

And finally, I thought we called any private company that profited from a crime “the mob.”

2. They don’t make us safer. Los Angeles just shut down their cameras because, as their police commission put it, “they don’t make traffic safer.”

In this , The Western Springs Police Department bragged about how well their new cameras were working. But in , they released new data that showed accidents at the photo-enforced intersections of Ogden Avenue and Wolf Road and 55th Street and Wolf had actually increased by 190 percent!

In their 2010 annual report, the WSPD touted a 10 percent villagewide reduction in car crashes, but then claimed a jump from 11 to 21 accidents at those two intersections wasn’t statistically significant. Take if from this psych major who had to take three statistics courses, it is.

If these cameras really made us drive more safely, the companies that profit from them would already be out of business.

3. It’s a tax. Maybe those Western Springs cameras aren’t working out so well, because 95 percent of the tickets they issue are for right-on-red violations, despite the fact the sloppiest of right-on-red turns rarely cause an accident.

That’s right! In general, two-thirds of all suburban red-light-camera tickets go to right-on-red violators, most for failing to come to a complete stop. This has nothing to do with safety, it’s just another tax.

4. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Should you fight your red-light ticket, as previously mentioned, you don’t get to go before a judge who has no dog in the fight, you plead your case in front of a police department or municipal hearing officer who’s paid by the very municipality that stands to benefit from the fine.

Do I really need to explain the inherent problems with that “undue” process?

Ironically, Western Springs actually loses money on its camera installations which, when you consider the previous statistics, makes me wonder why they’re still there.

5. Shameless camera company shenanigans. Here’s what I want you to do. Go to the Illinois State Board of Elections website and type “Redspeed” at the donor name prompt. Then click on “search.” You’ll see that Redspeed, the culprit behind most of our local cameras, has contributed $87,000 to Illinois politicians since 2008.

And remember, that doesn’t include lobbyists, their campaigns against mayors who dare to take ‘em down, or the police chief beer picnics these companies love to host.

But all is not lost, folks! Like our rebellious Houstonians, we too can fight back. When the cameras were introduced in Bolingbrook, the backlash was so intense they took ‘em down after six short months. It’s amazing how quickly things change when you threaten to vote the rascals out of office.

When the camera at Meachem and Woodfield Roads generated $1 million in right-on-red fines in just two months, so many shoppers threatened to boycott Woodfield Mall that Schaumburg quickly abandoned it. It seems that one camera-happy city finally grasped the notion that you can’t get a right-on-red ticket shopping online.

So, for Elmhurst, Wheaton, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Burr Ridge, Glen Ellyn and Batavia, I’m officially designating Monday as “Hug your City Council Rep and Police Chief Day.” Please try not to get tasered.

I’ll let St. Charles off the hook to some degree because, at least for now, they won’t write a right-on-red ticket unless it’s utterly egregious. But the sad thing for cities like Geneva, Lisle and Western Springs is, every time you issue a camera citation, for all of the reasons I’ve already listed, you’re destroying the faith we’d all love to have in our law-enforcement agencies.

And once that trust is gone, you’ll never get it back.

Jeff Ward September 02, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Thomas, They do have them in Naperville and Arurora, but those cities aren't part of this particular Patch Group so I didn't cover them them in the column. Also, Aurora will not write any right on red tickets period! That makes me believe they may have the right intentions. Jeff
Mary Rudakas September 02, 2011 at 03:15 PM
My poor sweet extremely law-abiding mother got a right-on-red ticket from one of these cameras, despite coming to a full stop. She didn't want any trouble so she went ahead and paid it. Super lame!! Thanks for sharing this info - will spread it around!
Geneva History Center September 02, 2011 at 03:29 PM
I unfortunately received a red-light ticket a year ago. Could have sworn the light wasn't "quite" red yet but I watched myself on their online video and I was guilty as charged. I found it tough to pay the fee and was about a week late sending it. Then I received an invoice for an additional $100 for a late fee! I called and they told me I had to fight it or pay the fee but I could take my time and send installments because they don't charge interest. It took me a while but I paid the total late fee. The demon in me wanted to pay it a penny at a time taped to a card in their envelope. Red-Light cameras are absolutely ridiculous! Where does all that money go? I have a good charity in mind...
8675309 September 02, 2011 at 03:37 PM
I'm with Lynn, I am more liekly to slam on my brakes at a yellow to avoid getting a ticket as I believe most people are, which is more of a safety hazard. I'm waiting for the day when I get rear-ended or end up doing it to someone else. My fiance has gotten a right on red ticket at Manheim and St.Charles in Bellwood. Apparently he didn't count long enough before he turned! Well, I haven't gotten ticketed for that, you know why? Because you won't catch me turning on red when there is a red light camera anywhere near. Go ahead and honk at me all you want, but I'm not budging. I sure as hell am not risking a ticket. I know, I know, you are gonna be late for wherever you're heading.... don't blame me....
Jim Farley September 02, 2011 at 03:38 PM
What a great article !!!!! I got a B.S ticket in Lockport at 159th and Farell. I did not come to a complete stop while making a right turn. Please come to a complete stop if you are ever in that area. THAT IS THE LAST 100 BUCKS I EVER SPEND IN LOCKPORT.
Stephen September 02, 2011 at 03:40 PM
FIGHT THE SCAM FOLKS! www.motorists.org www.banthecams.org www.camerafraud.com www.bhspi.org
Tina Tuszynski September 02, 2011 at 03:57 PM
My husband got one of those red light tickets in Chicago, on that torrentially rainy night last year in July. He was at a yellow light in the city, conditions were terrrible, and if he had stopped he would have had to jam on his brakes, probably skidded, and would have caused more traffic disruption than just turning through it. Of course he tried to fight it to no avail. Total scam.
Jeff Ward September 02, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Dear Readers, You know, having everyone agree with me is going to take some getting used to! Jeff
Louise September 02, 2011 at 05:03 PM
In many European countries, it is not red light cameras but speed cameras. Having lived there, I liked it. Speeding, without regard to neighborhood children, local schools, dangerous curves, hidden driveways etc, is ticketed. And yes, my car was caught...ticket showed up in the mail and I paid the fine. Guilty as charged. There's no debating speed if you're recorded going over the limit. I can think a many roads in DuPage County that could use speed cameras.
robert poznanski September 02, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Its easier to charge drivers for "violations", and write your own rules, than to ,O horrors of horrors, raise taxes! You can't have it both ways! These people have got to pay for their inflated pensions, somehow! And, since there does not to seem to be a person willing to vote for a politician who would raise funds to keep "the farm running",this is just the latest wrinkle! Where is the common ground ,we as citizens,are supposed to have,with the services we expect from our government, and the paying for them, by being extorted by unconstitutional means?
8675309 September 02, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Don't worry, I haven't read your article on the fire pits yet, pretty sure you'll get what you're used to!! ; )
Thomas September 02, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Louise, Don't worry, the speed cameras are next. You'll get your wish. More big brother!
Glenn September 02, 2011 at 05:42 PM
I have almost rearended allot of people while driving a semi at many different intersections thru out Dupage county. The next time you are about to slam on your brakes check that rear view mirror to make sure your won't get rear ended by that semi-tractor. I try to keep in mind where those intersections are so I can leave room for that hard braker.
Jeff Ward September 02, 2011 at 08:52 PM
Thomas, Arizona already has 'em! Jeff
Scott Lang September 02, 2011 at 09:45 PM
I thought Kane County enacted rules that say that the cameras can't remain in the same location for more than three years? This was to effectively kill the program. What happened?
James Parnell September 02, 2011 at 10:28 PM
Jeff, I have gotten the impression from comments you have made in previous articles that you fancy yourself a Fox News bashing progressive. Really? what positions have you taken in the past that would support such a position. After reading this article sounds to me like your one of those people who doesn't like big government until you need big government. Your an ideological weather vane.
Jeff Ward September 03, 2011 at 01:13 AM
Scott, The three years ain't up yet! Jeff
Andrew Johnson September 03, 2011 at 03:13 AM
The ‘interesting’ devices in Britain now are the average speed checks in road-work zones. They time how long it takes every vehicle to go through the road works and fine anyone who goes through too quickly, so *nobody* speeds through road works over there now. I'm surprised the Illinois Tollway Authority isn't clamoring to be allowed to make use of transponder timings to fine speeders over here, it would be pretty cheap for them to implement, and they have an easy way to make you pay...
Patrick Sennett September 03, 2011 at 03:35 AM
West Chicago, too. 64 & Route 59, got me one.
Debbie September 03, 2011 at 05:00 AM
I've heard that the split of that $100 is 70-30 and 30 is going to the municipality and 70 goes to the redlight camera outfits. My husband and I got these tickets within a couple days of each other and when we paid them 2 days late, they wanted another $100 (each) for late fees. I wrote them a letter, called them bandits and that they should be ashamed of themselves for gouging tax poor drivers and actually never heard from them again.
Pat Gerace September 03, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Villa Park has the Red Light Camera at the intersection of RT 83 where you turn into Walmart. That is why we no longer go to that Walmart. There is one in Westchester as well on Mannheim and Roosevelt as well as Mannheim and 22. You will also find one in Melrose Park on 25 and North.
john September 03, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I work in the same business complex as redspeed... if I ever get a ticket from any suburban red light camera im just gonna walk right down to there office.
john September 03, 2011 at 04:08 PM
They are located in lombar finley and Eisenhower ln right behind the storage place
Thomas September 03, 2011 at 04:45 PM
Jeff, I know they do...which Arizona surprises me as that used to be considered a somewhat libertarian state. The point I was trying to make is give it time and they will be here in Illinois. I believe a couple of years ago, a downstate lawmaker proposed this as a way to generate revenue (no mention of safety) by putting speed cameras up on downstate highways. Maybe they need toll roads down there. LOL I'm actually surprised it hasn't been down in Illinois yet though. Probably because of the blowback of red light cameras has slowed that down. But, the day will come for speed cameras. All of those red light cameras are already equipped to measure speed.
Matt Hay September 04, 2011 at 02:42 AM
Great common sense piece! As for speed cameras, Illinois already has them, see: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/02/293.asp Redspeed cannot be as bad as American Traffic Solutions. They are all corrupt, and these arrangements are nothing short of racketeering.
Michelle Smith September 04, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Are you kidding me with this?Mabey you should get mad about illegal aliens coming in to our country and getting public aid,education, and free health care while most of our citizens can't. Families come in to the country lying saying they aren't married and boom they get public aid. Why get mad about a violation that's caught on a camera. Yes it's upsetting to get a ticket in the mail but then be extra careful. Yes it sucks but don't you think that cops pull people over and give bogus tickets all time? If you don't your fooling yourself. My advice to all you people stay out of Carol StreAm because those cops do give out bogus tickets. At least with the camera you know for sure you did what your actually being acused of. Pay the fine and quit complaining because you broke the law. And you can say that accidents have increased but what you can't say is how many were prevented from the camera. Mabey lives were saved because it slowed someone down. You know there could be a learning curve here people that drive like idiots in the first place can still get into accidents until they learn that red means stop not accelerate. Dont get me wrong here I love how charged up you are about this just pick a bigger issue.
Patty Wagner September 05, 2011 at 03:09 AM
My phone's GPS now announces when an intersection with a red light camera is coming up. I love that.
mikew October 08, 2011 at 01:28 AM
Late spring I received a red light violation ticket. I fought and today I received the results, $0 due = it was dropped. I fought it via the mail and never had to appear. I wrote up an brief the showed that the Illinois code does not allow redlight vendors to be paid per ticket issued. I then showed that the Lake County contract with REDLIGHT contradicts Illinois code in that cost to Lake County is nothing. Lake County will not pay anything to REDLIGHT if there are no tickets issued. This relates to the ticket being dropped. YOU can get the contract of the issuing PD via and open records request via online. I fought it and won and so can you.
Just a "Citizen" December 23, 2011 at 04:34 PM
My 77 year old mother got one last week in Villa Park for a incomplete stop/right on red coming out of Wal-Mart onto 83 SB. Yet the Villa Park police let a guy panhandle over by that light for almost 2 years. That is the reason my mother rolled the stop. She does not want beggars coming up to her car. It makes her feel unsafe. Does the Villa Park Police do anything about the panhandler? No, that would require actually doing their jobs and moving the guy along in PERSON instead of collecting money while in bed with some people who just take a cut of the revenue from these "1984" cameras. My mom and myself will NEVER go to that Wal-Mart again. I am going to write The Walmart Corporate office and show them these comments and others. That is how you get things to happen. Wal-Mart has to make one call and the bum and cameras will be gone. That used to be a nice store until Villa Park dropped the ball. Right before Christmas, it's not about revenue. Yeah Right.
Rachel Abata December 23, 2011 at 06:05 PM
That guy that panhandles by the Walmart is harmless, if you've known he's been there for 2 years you should know he NEVER approaches vehicles unless someone rolls down their window to help this man. I understand that maybe your mother didn't know that, but don't blame the man that panhandles for your mothers ticket...the law is the law, look at you blaming everyone for her ticket...what the hell is Walmart going to do about the cameras? It wasn't their choice to install them so I doubt it'll be their decision to have them removed. How exactly did Villa Park ruin Walmart? That store is awful already, it didn't need a traffic camera to ruin it, their customers do a good job on their own.

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