- - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not so long ago, politicians paraded accident victims before the cameras at press conferences announcing the arrival of red-light cameras. These were not perp walks, but prop walks. Revenue cameras were supposed to be the solution to all traffic-safety problems, saving lives and protecting children. Nobody much buys that any more.

A new poll for The Chicago Tribune finds that two-thirds of Chicago residents consider this flash for cash a “bad idea.” No wonder. The former CEO of Redflex, the second-largest revenue-camera company, was charged last week with bribing public officials in Chicago and officials in 13 other states. The former executive vice president of Redflex turned state’s evidence and dished the dirt on a $2 million scheme to enrich a Chicago bureaucrat in return for awarding a contract worth $125 million.

Rahm Emanuel is furiously distancing himself from the scandal, reminding everyone that he was not the mayor when the bribes were distributed. “I issued the first indictment of the red-light camera operator, because I fired them,” he says. “I inherited them, and I fired them … . We threw out Redflex — not just the tickets — threw them out, over a year ago.”

That sounds good, but it’s not exactly true. Mr. Emanuel did give Redflex a pink slip in February last year, but he didn’t necessarily intend to stop collecting all that revenue-camera loot. He allowed Redflex to keep issuing tickets until Xerox, the successor contractor, took over the program this April. City records reveal that Redflex collected $17,080,621 after it was “fired,” including payments made as recently as last month. Being fired by Mr. Emanuel can be quite profitable.

Tired of lies, the public is taking matters into its own hands in places elsewhere. On Monday, residents of Cleveland, and the nearby suburb of Maple Heights filed charter amendments that would, if ratified by voters, prohibit the use of revenue cameras unless a police officer pulls over the driver and hands the snapshot to him. Last week, the Arizona border town of Sierra Vista put a speed-camera ban on the November ballot. A referendum is a death sentence for the cameras, because 9 out of 10 times that revenue cameras have been put to a public vote, the cameras lost. Cincinnati did that a few years ago.

Given that unambiguous public sentiment, federal prosecutors are not likely to hesitate putting the crooks in prison, and the Chicago scandal is just the beginning. The investigation is likely to reveal which public officials were on the take in California, New Jersey, Virginia and other states. Smart politicians will get ahead of the curve and “fire” the cameras before the G-men come knocking.