- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2001

There is a delicate balance to be struck between apprehending lawbreakers and sacrificing the liberty of a free state. That balance has been unsettled by the adoption of some 40-60 photo radar stations to catch speeders in the District.

No one disputes that there is a problem with too many motorists driving beyond what might be called reasonable and prudent speeds within city limits where the lawful maximum speed is set by statute at 25 mph. But that is beside the point. The city also has too many criminals of various types as well yet no one is suggesting that D.C. police ignore constitutional protections and begin conducting random stop-and-frisks, or install video monitors at every street corner, to deal with the problem more "effectively." Yet the use of photo radar represents, in principle, the same abandonment of some very important principles that are fundamental to the liberties of a free people among them the presumption of innocence and the right to be free from being the object of official scrutiny the moment one steps outside of one's home. The same photo radar cameras used to nab speeders could easily be turned over to other uses as they have in London, where the cameras are used to monitor the comings and goings of law-abiding citizens.

What's especially troubling about this photo radar business, however, is that it involves a dubious partnership between a private, for-profit company and the government of the District of Columbia. Lockheed Martin IMS a large defense contractor is not only going to administer the program by processing the film and sending out the automated tickets, it is providing the start-up funds necessary to buy the cameras and related equipment. In return, Lockheed Martin IMS gets a $29 cut of each speeding ticket fine the machines generate. Thus a private company will be using the legal process to fleece citizens while the city government essentially abrogates its duty to enforce the law by turning this function over to a private business. This type of "working relationship" between government and business is technically known as fascism at least in political theory.

Lockheed Martin IMS also administers other parking-enforcement projects for the District, including the 39 red light cameras in use in the city on a similarly remunerative basis as well as the demonstration "project" photo radar stations set up last year along the George Washington Parkway in Virginia. It's all very profitable the red light cameras generated $9 million in revenue last year and very ominous. We're going to be watched and watched by a private corporation to boot.

"This is the future of speed enforcement," crowed Lt. Patrick Burke of the D.C. police. "A camera could be anywhere. You've got to look in the mirror and monitor your own behavior." One wonders if Lt. Burke realizes how he sounds or knows what he is endorsing.

Either notion is scary to contemplate.

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