- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Lockheed Martin's for-profit enforcement of traffic regulations was dealt a small but hopeful setback last week when a San Diego judge openly criticized the idea of a private company extracting fines from motorists via red light and photo radar cameras.

"The potential conflict created by a contingent method of compensation," wrote San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn, "further undermines the trustworthiness of evidence which is used to prosecute red light violations." He went on to question Lockheed Martin's role as "a neutral evaluator of the evidence" given that it receives a hefty chunk of each fine issued by the photo radar and red light camera systems it provides to local governments, including the government of the District of Columbia.

Many taxpayers, including a large number of motorists in California who have contested the arrangement, are disturbed by the idea that a for-profit venture teams with government for the purpose of enforcing traffic laws. They maintain, oddly enough, that this little deal Lockheed Martin has got going is both suspicious and, more fundamentally, an affront to the ideals of self-government. After all, no one elected Lockheed Martin to legislate or to enforce laws. That is the function of government.

Judge Styn's ruling had the salutary effect of rendering inadmissible as evidence all photos taken by Lockheed's precious little cameras; San Diego can appeal the judge's ruling at a hearing scheduled for Aug. 31. The District's No. 2 cop, Terrance W. Gainer, is not especially happy about the San Diego ruling, which could become a precedent that eventually puts the kibosh on the whole photo radar/camera enforcement program. "I hope the California ruling doesn't jeopardize the strides we've had in our use of the technology," he said. Naturally. With an anticipated haul of $11 million in fines annually representing about 80,000 tickets, or about 70,000 more than D.C.'s finest were able to issue on their own last year it's easy enough to understand the chief's enthusiasm for an automated ticked factory. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel said Judge Styn's ruling would not affect the use of cameras to enforce speed limits and fine red light-runners. "We're convinced that that's all legal and proper," said Peter Lavallee.

Well, it's certainly legal, because any statute that is enacted by government qualifies, technically, as legal. What goes on in Cuba and China is "legal," too, under those systems. As for proper, well, that's another matter entirely.

With any luck, Judge Styn's ruling will initiate a hard second look at those and other questions.


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