Privatizing law enforcement should never be done lightly. The combination of the government’s power to restrain individual liberty and greed for profit invites corruption. That’s the scenario playing out across the country with revenue cameras, sometimes called red-light cameras.
The most extensive photo-ticketing program in the world is in (surprise!) Chicago, and soon the greedy guys may be shopping for lawyers. The city had invited Redflex Traffic Systems to issue tickets in a deal that meant $100 million for the Australian firm and $300 million for the revenue pot stirred by the municipal bureaucrats. With numbers that big on the line, it’s hardly a surprise that the company behind this “safety” program cut corners to encourage the city to increase the number of cameras.
Redflex was caught scheming with Chicago politicians to collect more money. According to the company, at least some of a $2 million payment to a consultant was intended to reach the pocket of a city program manager in an arrangement that “will likely be considered bribery by the authorities.” Fancy that.
So far, the fallout has consumed the jobs of the CEO and several members of the board of directors of Redflex. The city of Chicago further intends to sever ties to Redflex. In a telephone call to shareholders Tuesday, the company’s new managers assured investors they have their eye on restoring profitability.
The revenue-camera outrage continues in other places. The City of Fairfax, Va., last month announced its intention to double or triple the number of Redflex cameras. The corner of Main Street and Pickett Road is No. 2 on the city’s shortlist to get an automated ticketing machine.
That’s an interesting choice. The Virginia Department of Transportation rejected the city’s 2010 request to put up a camera there. State officials were concerned about the documented increase in rear-end collisions at camera locations throughout the state. Main and Pickett was of particular concern. “At this intersection,” the department said, “there is already a much higher number of rear-end collisions than the angle crashes, and in our judgment it is not suitable for the red-light camera application.”
Unfortunately, Gov. Bob McDonnell, a rare Republican with an appetite for raising taxes, recently pushed through a law granting municipalities the authority to overrule the Transportation Department. Redflex has issued $866,800 worth of tickets in Fairfax since 2011. These cameras aren’t about public safety. They’re only about revenue, the newly fashionable euphemism for taxes. The outrage might be easier to take if the politicians would only tell the truth about them.
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