Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red light cameras? Only ours, please

When the Texas Republican Party last month put together their latest version of a platform, it was filled with all kinds of laughable, Lone Star State hooey. But even the Texans managed to pick up on one idea that has political people to many people.

It is the official stance of the Texas GOP that red-light cameras should be banned!

I CAN’T HELP but think many people would agree with that thought, since our political people seem to be becoming way too willing to latch onto such cameras as a way of enriching their coffers.

Now I will be the first to agree that many people do drive like idiots. I see it all too often as I try to avoid getting hit by some nitwit who doesn’t seem to pay attention to what is going on around him (or her).

There also is a sense that I like the idea that local police officers can be freed up for work on more important law enforcement activity, if they’re not having to spend so much time sitting in cars parked in an isolated spot – just waiting for some nitwit motorist to drive past them and get caught in their “speed trap.”

What most irritates people about these cameras is the arbitrary nature in which they seem to enforce violations. Those cameras take pictures of moving violations, with the resulting photos being regarded as incontrovertible evidence of the wrong-doing.

NO APPEALS. NO nothing. Just fork over the cash.

Which is all the local governments really care about – fines that can be assessed without having to maintain the cost of the appeals process by which flawed tickets can be challenged.

That idea got reinforced in my mind when I was reading a news report out of suburban Tinley Park, where village officials decided to “opt out” of an attempt by Cook County government to set up red-light cameras at intersections of roads that are maintained at county expense.

That “opt out” means that the county can’t put up the camera that they wanted at 171st Street and 80th Avenue (about 12 blocks from the Cook/Will county line) because it falls within the village limits.

IT DOES NOT mean that Tinley Park officials have an ideological objection to the intrusiveness of more cameras watching our society. It’s just that the village maintains three red-light cameras of its own at other intersections of the village (all along Harlem Avenue, for those of you who ever pass through the area).

It seems to me that Tinley Park officials realize that “the people” don’t really like these cameras, and they know that having too many of them around the village will get people seriously upset – perhaps enough to even start voting against local officials.

So if there can only be so many cameras in the suburb before the people get outraged, they want to be sure that the cameras (and the resulting fines) are all controlled by the local officials. “Let Todd Stroger fund the final months of his county board presidency somewhere else,” seems to be the attitude expressed here.

This comes just a month after the county board voted overwhelmingly to install their own red-light cameras at 30 intersections. Those cameras are all supposed to be in place by the end of August.

NOW I MUST admit to not feeling complete sympathy for those people who get caught by such cameras, mainly because every intersection that has such a camera also has a warning sign, of sorts, telling the driver that they are approaching a camera-patrolled intersection.

I remember once hearing a suburban police chief (now retired) say on the subject, “we put up a great big sign warning you, it’s your own fault if you don’t pay attention.”

Personally, I always give my speedometer a quick glance when I see such a sign, and I also do pay a little extra attention to the way I make stops and turns at such an intersection. If it reads like I’m writing that I get a little extra careful, that would be true.

I don’t need a ticket and fine for something stupid, even though I realize that the villages and the county itself would prefer it if I just drove carelessly – because they want my money.

WHICH MAY BE one point upon which I agree with Republican Roger Keats, who is challenging Toni Preckwinkle for the Cook County Board presidency come the Nov. 2 elections. The former state senator from the North Shore suburbs calls it a “cheap ploy to pick the pockets” of taxpayers.

Of course, maybe he (and the Texans who took their “bold” stance on red-light cameras) would change his mind if he actually won election, and saw a use for the revenue. But for now, it’s encouraging to learn that at least a few politicos aren’t so eager to have those bloody boxes hanging up on posts all over our metro area.


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