- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

The city is taking pictures to make money and save lives, a noble racket slated to be expanded.
You're certain to be photographed by the city one of these harried days.
So smile. Yes, you. Fix your hair. Straighten your tie. Touch up your makeup. Try not to blink. You might as well try to look your best. You are paying for it.
As adept as it is becoming with a camera, the city ought to consider the financial benefits of family portraits and glamour shots. Baby shots, too. Everyone likes baby shots.
As it is now, one city-sponsored picture is worth only a thousand harsh words.
The victims of the pictures, their lives saved or not, do not appreciate the official intrusion.
Saving lives is a tricky business, especially when the Metropolitan Police Department is uncertain just how many lives the photo-radar camera program has saved. It has saved a couple of lives, no doubt, possibly more than a couple, plus generated $20 million in much-needed revenue for the city since the program was implemented in August 2001.
This is good news for a city with a $323 million budget shortfall, and good news for Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the tattletale of the operation.
No one likes a tattletale, of course, and that goes double for a tattletale who has his hand on your wallet.
What can you do? This is the city. It works in mysterious ways, if work is the proper word.
Predictably enough, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council have decided to increase their life-saving measures after completing the math. It comes out to an additional five mobile cameras to complement the five already in use and the one stationary camera on Florida Avenue. Their logic is impeccable, their intent almost altruistic.
At this pace, the city is bound to have an electronic snoop at every intersection and who knows where else one of these years. If a well-placed camera can save just one life, then the public's increasing loss of privacy is worth it.
That also is justification enough to stick a camera in alleyways and in the homes of residents. You probably could save a few lives in those venues, plus impose fines on those domestic partners who have a communication problem.
You know what they say in City Hall. If you can't manage a budget, fine the nearest dupe.
The city would raise taxes, except it has gone there so many times, the populace is already one of the most heavily taxed in the nation. So new property taxes, just lights, cameras and action.
The cameras go with the territory.
The city has developed a remarkable obsession with the automobile over the years, reinforced by the omnipotent parking-enforcement industry. Nothing pleases the city bureaucrats more than a vehicle that has overstayed its time limit by a minute or two or a driver who has misinterpreted the strangely written parking signs. That program has been expanded as well. It seems you can't have too many tow-truck operators and ticket-writing officers on downtown streets.
You are not saving many lives by ticketing an illegally parked vehicle, but you are saving the environment. Lives, environment. Environment, lives. That qualifies as a political platform.
The mayor has offered no apologies, just safe-driving tips.
Do not speed, he has said.
Do not litter either.
Not surprisingly, a spokesman with AAA Mid-Atlantic is unimpressed with the mayor's traffic-safety plan and the city's fixation with saving lives. That possibly is because the mayor's office and the Metropolitan Police Department have dispensed contradictory messages. The mayor's office emphasizes the revenue part of the equation, the police department the life-saving part of it. Neither has been able to place a life-affirming value on the cameras, just a monetary one.
On the latter count, the cameras have exceeded expectations.
Stick a camera here, stick a camera there, stick a camera everywhere.
The city is becoming pretty good at it.
The city snaps the photograph, processes the film and mails the result, along with the bill, to your home.
How did your picture turn out? All right? How about the license plate?
This is an art form. An eye for detail is important.
Perhaps officials should set up film-processing booths around the city.
Why not? It is more revenue. It is friendlier, too.

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