Behind DC traffic cameras lurk less noble motives
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Behind traffic cameras lurk less noble motives

Washington Times | January 13, 2005

By Tom Knott

The city has decorated its asphalt arteries with yet another four speed cameras, ostensibly to save more lives and blah, blah, blah.
    The morally superior justification to save lives is intended to mute the masses. Saving a life is an inherently good motivation that has no legislative end. It is the creeping act of good that intrudes on the privacy and freedom of the citizenry.
     The minions of Mayor Anthony A. Williams inevitably deny the charge that theirs is mostly a coffer-filling endeavor. Yet the mayor's letter to Linda W. Cropp last month seemingly confirms the revenue-generating aspirations of the practice. The mayor made no reference to saving lives in the letter.

    His appeal to the D.C. Council chairman was framed against the needs of the bottom line — "to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues."
    Of course, the 13 members of the D.C. Council — many of whom pretended to show a populist's streak in the ballpark squabble — approved the contract. It is just one more measure that undermines the quality of life of the "little man" in the city. It is just one more bureaucratic hurdle to clear.
     If the ubiquitous speed camera is mostly about money — and it is — it is money that goes down a sinkhole. We have a deplorable public school system to prove it.
     It is bad enough that the return on the city's sizable tax dollar is woefully lacking. It segues to insulting as the city becomes even more creative with its dollar-taking pursuits, planting speed cameras with the conviction of a totalitarian state.
     We are moving steadily to being a city that monitors and photographs every move of the populace, whether a camera is stationed in front of an ATM, inside a neighborhood convenience store, atop the federal buildings downtown or along one of the heavily used thoroughfares.
     It is a creepy practice that is forever dispensed in the context of a larger good, with some reasons more valid than others. The need to be vigilant in the age of terrorism is one thing. Photographing the license plate of a poor sucker who tried to beat a yellow light in stop-and-go traffic is another.
     A camera as an altruistic instrument of the do-good, all-knowing city officials is the measure determined to keep on giving. If a speed camera placed at one busy intersection is a good thing, then a speed camera placed at every busy intersection in the city is even better.
     After that, the city can move its automated eyes to residential areas and then, finally, into the homes of residents. Surely, if the city could monitor the actions of its citizenry 24/7, just think of all the lives that could be saved. Just think of all the crimes that could be stopped in progress. Just think how much safer we could be in an Orwellian world.
     Big Brother as Great Protector is hardly in the national spirit.
     It is a flawed philosophy that comes with very real costs, namely an erosion of privacy that Americans once so desperately coveted.
     We are relinquishing our identities to the great databases in the sky and to politicians who know what is best for us. In the city of the jersey barrier, cordoned-off streets and law-enforcement officers who eye the contents of your vehicle, our politicians believe that the deployment of more cameras is a nifty idea.
     We are, in effect, guilty until proven innocent by the automated eyes in our midst. We are, after all, human, susceptible to bad decisions.
     Our leaders aspire to end our bad decisions, plus fill the city's coffers. It is all for our own good, these cameras.
     So just remember to smile while going about your business in the city.
     A camera is liable to be trained on your mug or license plate.

Mayor says traffic cameras needed for revenue

WASHINGTON TIMES | January 12, 2005
By Jim McElhatton

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams cited the "urgent need" to collect revenue in his recent request to continue the city's automated traffic-enforcement program, which added four new cameras yesterday, despite previous assurances that use of the technology is driven by concerns for safety, not profits.
    "There is an urgent need for the approval of this contract to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues," Mr. Williams wrote in a Dec. 16 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.

    In the letter, Mr. Williams was seeking support for the District's $14.6 million contract with ACS State and Local Solutions, which the council later approved. ACS, a private company, handles fines for the city's automated traffic-enforcement program.
    A spokeswoman for Mr. Williams yesterday said that the mayor's views about red light and speed cameras haven't changed and that he probably should have included "an extra sentence about public safety" in his letter to Mrs. Cropp.
    "The mayor has always felt that with the red-light cameras and the other equipment we use to catch people who are speeding, safety is our foremost goal," said Sharon Gang, spokeswoman for Mr. Williams. "He's never varied from that."
    The mayor's letter, which makes no mention of public safety, came as the Metropolitan Police Department moved to expand the automated traffic-enforcement program by adding four new fixed-location speed cameras throughout the District yesterday.
    Police officers added the speed cameras at the 4700 block of MacArthur Boulevard NW, the 2800 block of Benning Road NE, the 100 block of Michigan Avenue NE and the 5400 block of 16th Street NW.
    The District will issue warning citations for the next month before fining speeders nabbed at the four new locations.
    Since August 2001, speed cameras have been placed in eight police cruisers that monitor 75 designated spots throughout the District. The program has generated more than $63 million in fines.
    In addition, fines from red-light cameras at 39 intersections have totaled more than $28 million since 1999.
    The huge windfall for the District has led to criticism of the city's motives by the motorist club AAA Mid-Atlantic.
    Yesterday, AAA called the recent addition of four new speed cameras "an ever-increasing gantlet" for D.C. motorists.
    AAA spokesman John Townsend also seized on the mayor's letter to Mrs. Cropp. He said Mr. Williams' concern for generating revenue bolsters the case of critics who say the program is designed to fill the public coffers.
    "All of our suspicions were realized with that statement," Mr. Townsend said. "It's a very telling statement.
    "The public is very suspicious of the District's motives," he added. "An increasing number of motorists think it is using the technology to raise money not to protect lives."
    However, Kevin Morison, director of corporate communications for the Metropolitan Police Department, said yesterday that the automated cameras could be responsible for a recent drop in the number of speed-related traffic fatalities.
    He said there were 17 speed-related traffic fatalities in the District last year, compared with 21 deaths in 2003 and 30 in 2002.
    "Do we have a scientific study that says speed cameras and other technology are responsible for the reduction? No, we don't," Mr. Morison said. "But certainly I think their use, along with other traditional enforcement efforts, have contributed."
    Public opinion was split at a gas station near one of the newest camera locations on the 2800 block of Benning Road NE yesterday.
    Charlie Williams said he thought that the automated program is chiefly a way to generate revenue for the city.
    "It's all about making money," said Mr. Williams, 64, an apartment manager who lives in Southeast. "I got a ticket because I went through a yellow light. There's no way to fight it."
    But Don Hackett, 53, of Northeast said he thought the cameras were a good idea.
    "This road here is like the Indianapolis Speedway," said Mr. Hackett, a manager at a taxicab company in the District. "I think it'll definitely help slow people down."


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911:  The Road to Tyranny