A man whose bid to become a police officer was rejected after he scored too high on an intelligence test has lost an appeal in his federal lawsuit against the city.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court’s decision that the city did not discriminate against Robert Jordan because the same standards were applied to everyone who took the test.
“This kind of puts an official face on discrimination in America against people of a certain class,” Jordan said today from his Waterford home. “I maintain you have no more control over your basic intelligence than your eye color or your gender or anything else.”
He said he does not plan to take any further legal action.
Jordan, a 49-year-old college graduate, took the exam in 1996 and scored 33 points, the equivalent of an IQ of 125. But New London police interviewed only candidates who scored 20 to 27, on the theory that those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training.
Most Cops Just Above Normal The average score nationally for police officers is 21 to 22, the equivalent of an IQ of 104, or just a little above average.
Jordan alleged his rejection from the police force was discrimination. He sued the city, saying his civil rights were violated because he was denied equal protection under the law.
But the U.S. District Court found that New London had “shown a rational basis for the policy.” In a ruling dated Aug. 23, the 2nd Circuit agreed. The court said the policy might be unwise but was a rational way to reduce job turnover.
Jordan has worked as a prison guard since he took the test.
Killer Cops Aren’t Heroes: We Need Police Who Think Like Firefighters, Not Like Soldiers in a War Zone
The tragic slaying of troubled eighth-grader Jaime Gonzalez in Brownsville, Texas by trigger-happy local police illustrates the sad an dangerous state we have arrived at as we turn our local police forces into SWAT team soldiers up-armed with assault rifles, black facemasks and stun grenades.
The reason Gonzalez, who had no hostages and was just armed with a pellet gun, was killed by police bullets was because the primary concern of the officers confronting him was to eliminate the threat to themselves, not to rescue a troubled kid.
To analyze this situation, we need to step back and consider firefighters, that other group of uniformed public employees (or often volunteers!) who also have to rescue people and whom we simply expect to face life-and-death situations on our behalf. As my cousin, a retired urban police officer, once pointed out to me, police don’t face anywhere near the risk that firefighters face. As he explained, police officers in truth rarely face life-and-death situations on the job, and when they do, they generally have the upper hand, given their guns and their training. Firefighters, on the other hand, know that they could die every time they respond to an alarm.
When a firefighter arrives at a burning building, her or his first thought is whether there might be someone trapped inside, or unconscious inside from smoke inhalation. If there is any possibility that this might be the case, they just rush into the burning building, obviously as safely as possible, but always aware that the whole thing could come down on them at any moment.
a firefighter going into a wall of flame to rescue someone or an up-armed SWAT kill team in their armored car?Who is the hero: a firefighter going into a wall of flame to rescue someone or an up-armed SWAT kill team in their armored car?
I’ve actually witnessed this kind of selfless heroism. When I lived in a large apartment building in New York City, years ago, there was a fire in another apartment several floors down. The building was considered “fire proof,” in that each unit was all surrounded by concrete–the walls, the ceilings and the floors — so theoretically the fire in this apartment, which was sending angry flames and smoke billowing out of the windows, could have safely been allowed to burn itself out. But instead, what I saw when I went down to the hall that the apartment was on, was two NYFD firefighters rush up the stairs and walk up to the door, which was so hot the paint was blistering out on it like melting lava. Then, incredibly, without even stopping to cross themselves or say a little silent prayer, they just kicked in the door. As the flames rushed out towards them, to my astonishment, they just walked into the inferno!
I talked to one of them afterwards. As it turns out there was nobody in the apartment, but he said they had rushed in right away because they were concerned that someone might have been trapped inside.
Now that is selfless heroism, yet they just saw it as all in a day’s work.
If they had been acting like many police officers, these guys would have waited outside in the hall, while fire trucks outside sprayed water through the window to quell the flames. Of course, had someone been in the flat, that person would have been toast had the firemen waited outside until things were safer and the fire was under control before going inside.
The parallel situation is young Jaime with his pellet gun in the hall of the Brownsville middle school. The cops had all the cards in this incident: they were marksmen, they had body armor, and there were several of them. The kid was clearly not a marksman, was carrying a pistol which is a notoriously hard thing to hit a target with, would have no time to aim if he tried to take a shot at a cop, and would in any case have had to manage a head shot to do any serious damage. Furthermore, the police were in no hurry. Since Gonzales had no hostage, since the doors to the classrooms were in lockdown so he couldn’t rush into one and take a hostage or shoot someone, and since the halls had been cleared, there was plenty of time to try to talk him down.
But the cops, clearly, were not there to save a young kid from himself, as a firefighter would have been doing. They were there thinking, first and foremost, of how to protect themselves. And so they took the easy route and shot and killed a boy. End of problem.
That is what is wrong with our police in America. Of course there are good, heroic cops, but as a group they are trained and encouraged not to be selfless public servants, but to see themselves as soldiers in a war on crime. Everything in public policy works towards this end: the provision of billions of dollars’ worth of deadly military equipment to police departments, the glorification of cops who shoot and kill perps, the caving in to police unions by politicians who fail to establish serious civilian review boards empowered to monitor police violence, the unwillingness of prosecutors and courts to punish cops who do use excessive violence, and of course the media glorification of police brutality and police violence, both in the news and in Hollywood.
Instead of urban commandos, we need in America police who see their job as saving lives, including the lives of those who are mentally unbalanced. We need police who are trained to see all people and all lives as precious. We need police who seek out the job of cop because they want to help people, not because they were in the military and have experience with handling weapons and thus have an advantage in the hiring process. We don’t need domestic soldiers as police. We need people who think like firefighters.
If our firefighters thought and acted like our nation’s police, there would be a lot more people burning to death or dying of smoke inhalation as the firefighters, protecting themselves, just stood back and watched buildings burn down.
The thugs we have been witnessing enthusiastically beating up peaceful protesters of the Occupy Movement around the country, and merrily spraying them with pepper spray and teargas, are the same people who would shoot a troubled kid instead of trying to save him (and by the way, how come cops are so quick to deploy their nonlethal weapons, including rubber bullets, bean-bag guns and flash-bang grenades, against peaceful protesters, and then they don’t use them when they could have saved a troubled kid and instead turn to their sidearms and M-4s?) . These people are not heroes, they are not civil servants, and they do not belong in a police uniform. We need a wholesale revamping of the nation’s police departments to convert them from urban combat units to protectors of lives, promoters of social harmony and defenders of liberty and democracy.
New York magazine reported some telling figures last month on how delayed-notice search warrants — also known as “sneak-and-peek” warrants — have been used in recent years. Though passed with the PATRIOT Act and justified as a much-needed weapon in the war on terrorism, the sneak-and-peek was used in a terror investigation just 15 times between 2006 and 2009. In drug investigations, however, it was used more than 1,600 times during the same period.
It’s a familiar storyline. In the 10 years since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the government has claimed a number of new policing powers in the name of protecting the country from terrorism, often at the expense of civil liberties. But once claimed, those powers are overwhelmingly used in the war on drugs. Nowhere is this more clear than in the continuing militarization of America’s police departments.
The trend toward a more militarized domestic police force began well before 9/11. It in fact began in the early 1980s, as the Regan administration added a new dimension of literalness to Richard Nixon’s declaration of a “war on drugs.” Reagan declared illicit drugs a threat to national security, and once likened America’s drug fight to the World War I battle of Verdun. But Reagan was more than just rhetoric. In 1981 he and a compliant Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, which allowed and encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, research, and equipment. It authorized the military to train civilian police officers to use the newly available equipment, instructed the military to share drug-war–related information with civilian police and authorized the military to take an active role in preventing drugs from entering the country.
A bill passed in 1988 authorized the National Guard to aid local police in drug interdiction, a law that resulted in National Guard troops conducting drug raids on city streets and using helicopters to survey rural areas for pot farms. In 1989, President George Bush enacted a new policy creating regional task forces within the Pentagon to work with local police agencies on anti-drug efforts. Since then, a number of other bills and policies have carved out more ways for the military and domestic police to cooperate in the government’s ongoing campaign to prevent Americans from getting high. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney declared in 1989, “The detection and countering of the production, trafficking and use of illegal drugs is a high priority national security mission of the Department of Defense.”
The problem with this mingling of domestic policing with military operations is that the two institutions have starkly different missions. The military’s job is to annihilate a foreign enemy. Cops are charged with keeping the peace, and with protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents. It’s dangerous to conflate the two. As former Reagan administration official Lawrence Korb once put it, “Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize.” That distinction is why the U.S. passed the Posse Comitatus Act more than 130 years ago, a law that explicitly forbids the use of military troops in domestic policing.
Over the last several decades Congress and administrations from both parties have continued to carve holes in that law, or at least find ways around it, mostly in the name of the drug war. And while the policies noted above established new ways to involve the military in domestic policing, the much more widespread and problematic trend has been to make our domestic police departments more like the military.
The main culprit was a 1994 law authorizing the Pentagon to donate surplus military equipment to local police departments. In the 17 years since, literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens. Another law passed in 1997 further streamlined the process. As National Journal reported in 2000, in the first three years after the 1994 law alone, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across America. Domestic police agencies also got bayonets, tanks, helicopters and even airplanes.
All of that equipment then facilitated a dramatic rise in the number and use of paramilitary police units, more commonly known as SWAT teams. Peter Kraska, a criminologist at the University of Eastern Kentucky, has been studying this trend since the early 1980s. Kraska found that by 1997, 90 percent of cities with populations of 50,000 or more had at least one SWAT team, twice as many as in the mid-1980s. The number of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 with a SWAT team increased 157 percent between 1985 and 1996.
As the number of SWAT teams multiplied, their use expanded as well. Until the 1980s, SWAT teams were used almost exclusively to defuse immediate threats to the public safety, events like hostage takings, mass shootings, escaped fugitives, or bank robberies. The proliferation of SWAT teams that began in the 1980s, along with incentives like federal anti-drug grants and asset forfeiture policies, made it lucrative to use them for drug policing. According to Kraska, by the early 1980s there were 3,000 annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were 30,000 and by 2001 there were 40,000. The average police department deployed its SWAT team about once a month in the early 1980s. By 1995, it was seven times a month. Kraska found that 75 to80 percent of those deployments were to serve search warrants in drug investigations.
TERROR ATTACKS BRING NEW ROUND OF MILITARIZATION
The September 11th attacks provided a new and seemingly urgent justification for further militarization of America’s police departments: the need to protect the country from terrorism.
Within months of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the Office of National Drug Control Policy began laying the groundwork with a series of ads (featured most prominently during the 2002 Super Bowl) tying recreational drug use to support for terrorism. Terrorism became the new reason to arm American cops as if they were soldiers, but drug offenders would still be their primary targets.
In 2004, for example, law enforcement officials in the New York counties of Oswego and Cayuga defended their new SWAT teams as a necessary precaution in a post–September 11 world. “We’re in a new era, a new time,” here,” one sheriff told the Syracuse Post Standard. “The bad guys are a little different than they used to be, so we’re just trying to keep up with the needs for today and hope we never have to use it.” The same sheriff said later in the same article that he’d use his new SWAT team “for a lot of other purposes, too … just a multitude of other things.” In 2002, the seven police officers who serve the town of Jasper, Florida — which had all of 2,000 people and hadn’t had a murder in more than a decade — were each given a military-grade M-16 machine gun from the Pentagon transfer program, leading one Florida paper to run the headline, “Three Stoplights, Seven M-16s.”
In 2006 alone, a Pentagon spokesman told the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram & Gazette, the Department of Defense “distributed vehicles worth $15.4 million, aircraft worth $8.9 million, boats worth $6.7 million, weapons worth $1 million and ‘other’ items worth $110.6 million” to local police agencies.
In 2007, Clayton County, Georgia — whose sheriff once complained that the drug war was being fought like Vietnam, and should instead be fought more like the D-Day invasion at Normandy — got its own tank through the Pentagon’s transfer program. Nearby Cobb County got its tank in 2008. In Richland County, South Carolina, Sheriff Leon Lott procured an M113A1 armored personnel carrier in 2008. The vehicle moves on tank-like tracks, and features a belt-fed, turreted machine gun that fires .50-caliber rounds, a type of ammunition so powerful that even the military has restrictions on how it’s used on the battlefield. Lott named his vehicle “The Peacemaker.” (Lott, is currently being sued for sending his SWAT team crashing into the homes of people who appeared in the same infamous photo that depicted Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Michael Phelps smoking pot in Richland County.) Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio also has a belt-fed .50-caliber machine gun, though it isn’t connected to his armored personnel carrier.
Departments in places like Indianapolis and some Chicago suburbs also began acquiring machine guns from the military in the name of fighting terror. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick actually suspended the Pentagon program in his state after the Boston Globe reported that more than 80 police departments across the state had obtained more than 1,000 pieces of military equipment. “Police in Wellfleet, a community known for stunning beaches and succulent oysters, scored three military assault rifles,” the Globe reported. “At Salem State College, where recent police calls have included false fire alarms and a goat roaming the campus, school police got two M-16s. In West Springfield, police acquired even more powerful weaponry: two military-issue M-79 grenade launchers.”
September 11 also brought a new source of funding for military-grade equipment in the Department of Homeland Security. In recent years, the agency has given anti-terrorism grants to police agencies across the country to purchase armored personnel carriers, including such unlikely terrorism targets as Winnebago County, Wisconsin; Longview, Texas; Tuscaloosa County, Alabama; Canyon County, Idaho; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Adrian, Michigan; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. When the Memphis suburb of Germantown, Tennessee — which claims to be one of the safest cities in the country — got its APC in 2006, its sheriff told the local paper that the acquisition would put the town at the “forefront” of homeland security preparedness.
In Eau Clare County, Wisconsin, government officials told the Leader Telegram that the county’s new APC would mitigate “the threat of weapons or explosive devices.” County board member Sue Miller added, “It’s nice, but I hope we never have to use it.” But later in the same article, Police Chief Jerry Matysik says he planned to use the vehicle for other purposes, including “drug searches.” It may not be necessary, Matysik said, “But because it’s available, we’ll probably use it just to be cautious.”
The DHS grants are typically used to purchase the Lenco Bearcat, a modified armored personnel carrier that sells for $200,000 to $300,000. The vehicle has become something of a status symbol in some police departments, who often put out press releases with photos of the purchase, along with posing police officers clad in camouflage or battle dress uniforms.
HuffPost sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Homeland Security asking just how many grants for the vehicles have been given out since September 11, how much taxpayer money has been spent on them, and which police agencies have received them. Senior FOIA Program Specialist Angela Washington said that this information isn’t available.
The post-September 11 era has also seen the role of SWAT teams and paramilitary police units expand to enforce nonviolent crimes beyond even the drug war. SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, sent into bars and fraternities suspected of allowing underage drinking, and even to enforce alcohol and occupational licensing regulations. Earlier this year, the Department of Education sent its SWAT team to the home of someone suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program.
Kraska estimates the total number of SWAT deployments per year in the U.S. may now top 60,000, or more than 160 per day. In 2008, the Maryland legislature passed a law requiring every police department in the state to issue a bi-annual report on how it uses its SWAT teams. The bill was passed in response to the mistaken and violent SWAT raid on the home of Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor Cheye Calvo, during which a SWAT team shot and killed his two black labs. The first reports showed an average of 4.5 SWAT raids per day in that state alone.
Critics like Joseph McNamara, who served as a police chief in both San Jose, California, and Kansas City, Missouri, worry that this trend, now driven by the war on terror in addition to the war on drugs, have caused police to lose sight of their role as keepers of the peace.
“Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed,” McNamara wrote in a 2006 article for the Wall Street Journal. “An emphasis on ‘officer safety’ and paramilitary training pervades today’s policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed.” Noting the considerable firepower police now carry, McNamara added, “Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.”
In 2009, stimulus spending became another way to fund militarization, with police departments requesting federal cash for armored vehicles, SWAT armor, machine guns, surveillance drones, helicopters, and all manner of other tactical gear and equipment.
Like McNamara, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper finds all of this troubling. “We needed local police to play a legitimate, continuing role in furthering homeland security back in 2001,” says Stamper, now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “After all, the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place on specific police beats in specific police precincts. Instead, we got a 10-year campaign of increasing militarization, constitution-abusing tactics, needless violence and heartache as the police used federal funds, equipment, and training to ramp up the drug war. It’s just tragic.”
Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.
Your rights as a photographer:
When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.
When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).
Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).
Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.
Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.
Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.
If you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:
Always remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.
If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, “am I free to go?” If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.
If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Special considerations when videotaping:
With regards to videotaping, there is an important legal distinction between a visual photographic record (fully protected) and the audio portion of a videotape, which some states have tried to regulate under state wiretapping laws.
Such laws are generally intended to accomplish the important privacy-protecting goal of prohibiting audio “bugging” of private conversations. However, in nearly all cases audio recording the police is legal.
In states that allow recording with the consent of just one party to the conversation, you can tape your own interactions with officers without violating wiretap statutes (since you are one of the parties).
In situations where you are an observer but not a part of the conversation, or in states where all parties to a conversation must consent to taping, the legality of taping will depend on whether the state’s prohibition on taping applies only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. But that is the case in nearly all states, and no state court has held that police officers performing their job in public have a reasonable expectation. The state of Illinois makes the recording illegal regardless of whether there is an expectation of privacy, but the ACLU of Illinois is challenging that statute in court as a violation of the First Amendment.
The ACLU believes that laws that ban the taping of public officials’ public statements without their consent violate the First Amendment. A summary of state wiretapping laws can be found here.
Photography at the airport
Photography has also served as an important check on government power in the airline security context.
The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) acknowledges that photography is permitted in and around airline security checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process. The agency does ask that its security monitors not be photographed, though it is not clear whether they have any legal basis for such a restriction when the monitors are plainly viewable by the traveling public.
The TSA also warns that local or airport regulations may impose restrictions that the TSA does not. It is difficult to determine if any localities or airport authorities actually have such rules. If you are told you cannot take photographs in an airport you should ask what the legal authority for that rule is.
The ACLU does not believe that restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.
Appeals Court Rules It Is Not Illegal To Film Police
Paul Joseph Watson
Despite the mass hoax still being promulgated by both the mainstream media and local authorities across America, the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is not illegal for citizens to videotape police officers when they are on public duty.
“The filming of government officials while on duty is protected by the First Amendment, said the Court,” reports Daily Tech.
“The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles [of protected First Amendment activity].,” said the Court. “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs,” stated the ruling, adding that this has been the case all along, and that the right to film police officers is not just restricted to the press.
The case cited several examples where citizens were arrested for documenting acts of police brutality on recording devices, including that of Simon Glik, who was arrested after he filmed Boston police punching a man on the Boston Common.
Another case involved Khaliah Fitchette, a teenager who filmed police aggressively removing a man from a bus in Newark. Fitchette was arrested and detained for two hours before police deleted the video from her cellphone.
The court ruling also made it clear that bloggers who report news based on their recordings of police have equal protection under the law as journalists.
The recent arrests of law abiding citizens for simply exercising their Constitutional rights is a constant reminder of the encroaching Police State. The elite in control of our government have used increased Police Brutality and Torture. They have followed a detailed Roadmap to complete enslavement under eventual Martial Law. Our increasing Prison population, the largest in the world, is made up primarily of non-violent drug offenders. The failed WAR ON DRUGS has served only to rob offenders of their future and help build a powerful Prison Industrial Complex! Rather than focus on petty criminals, law enforcement should focus on the Illegal Alien Problem.
“The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status,” stated the court.
Despite the ruling, state authorities in Illinois are still trying to prosecute 41-year old mechanic Michael Allison for recording police officers in public. Allison faces a life sentence on five separate counts of “eavesdropping” that add up to 75 years.
The Attorney General’s Office is determined to make an example out of Allison in a bid to intimidate the public against filming the actions of police. In brazenly disregarding the law as well as legal precedent (every single charge against people for filming police, including a recent case in Illinois, has been thrown out of court), authorities are clearly using official oppression in their vendetta against Allison.
Despite innumerable cases where charges have been dropped against citizens arrested for filming police, the mass media still constantly invokes the misnomer that it is illegal to record cops in public.
The fact that arrests are still occurring on a regular basis nationwide also underscores how police are being trained to enforce a law that doesn’t exist, before hitting victims of this hoax with charges more severe than those a murderer would expect to receive and expecting them to back down and plea bargain, a startling reflection of the cancerous criminality that has set the United States well on course to becoming a police state.
Paul Joseph Watson is the editor and writer for Prison Planet.com. He is the author of Order Out Of Chaos. Watson is also a regular fill-in host for The Alex Jones Show.
Challenges to red light cameras span US Studies touting safety benefits sometimes contradictory, incomplete
By Alex Johnson Reporter
In more than 500 cities and towns in 25 states, silent sentries keep watch over intersections, snapping photos and shooting video of drivers who run red lights. The cameras are on the job in metropolises like Houston and Chicago and in small towns like Selmer, Tenn., population 4,700, where a single camera setup monitors traffic at the intersection of U.S. Highway 64 and Mulberry Avenue.
One of the places is Los Angeles, where, if the Police Commission gets its way, the red light cameras will have to come down in a few weeks. That puts the nation’s second-largest city at the leading edge of an anti-camera movement that appears to have been gaining traction across the country in recent weeks.
A City Council committee is considering whether to continue the city’s camera contract over the objections of the commission, which voted unanimously to remove the camera system, which shoots video of cars running red lights at 32 of the city’s thousands of intersections. The private Arizona company that installed the cameras and runs the program mails off $446 tickets to their registered owners.
The company’s contract will expire at the end of July if the council can’t reach a final agreement to renew it.
Opponents of the cameras often argue that they are really just revenue engines for struggling cities and towns, silently dinging motorists for mostly minor infractions. And while guidelines issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say revenue is an invalid justification for the use of the eyes in the sky (see box at right), camera-generated citations do spin off a lot of money in many cities — the nearly 400 cameras in Chicago, for example, generated more than $64 million in 2009, the last year for which complete figures were available.
Los Angeles hasn’t been so lucky.
The city gets only a third of the revenue generated by camera citations, many of which go unpaid anyway because judges refuse to enforce them, the city controller’s office reported last year. It found in an audit that if you add it all up, operating the cameras has cost $1 million to $1.5 million a year more than they’ve generated in fines, even as “the program has not been able to document conclusively an increase in public safety.”
Federal camera guidelines
The Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration says red light cameras and other automated traffic controls should:
• Reduce the frequency of violations.
• Maximize safety improvements with the most efficient use of resources.
• Maximize public awareness and approval.
• Maximize perceived likelihood that violators will be caught.
• Enhance the capabilities of traffic law enforcement and supplement, rather than replace, traffic stops by officers.
• Emphasize deterrence rather than punishment.
• Emphasize safety rather than revenue generation.
• Maintain program transparency by educating the public about program operations and be prepared to explain and justify decisions that affect program operations.
Source: Speed Enforcement Camera Systems Operational Guidelines, Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Another common refrain from critics is that the devices replace a human officer’s judgment and discretion with the cold, unforgiving algorithms of a machine.
“You’ve got to treat people fairly,” said Jay Beeber, executive director of Safer Streets LA, who has led the campaign to kill the city’s red light cameras. “You have to give people a fighting chance that you’re not going to penalize them for a minor lapse of judgment.”
Paul Kubosh, a lawyer who has led a similar anti-camera fight in Houston, called the camera systems “a scam on the public,” because they “are writing tickets that police officers don’t write.”
There’s a fierce court battle going on in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, after a U.S. district judge this week ruled that a measure voters approved to shut down the city’s more than 70 cameras was invalid on procedural grounds.
Could hundreds of lives be saved?
More than a dozen large studies over the past decade have concluded that the cameras reduce accidents and injuries. The most recent, published in February by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crunched 10 years of federal traffic data for the 99 largest U.S. cities — 14 of which now deploy cameras — and calculated that had all 99 installed the devices, 815 lives would have been saved from 2004 through 2008.
“We still have thousands of people who die,” said Adrian Lund, the Insurance Institute’s president. “We look at where and how that’s happening, and one of the most dangerous (locations) is intersections.”
Citing reports like that, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which coincidentally is headed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, this week approved a resolution endorsing nationwide adoption of red light cameras.
And yet, in addition to the votes in Los Angeles and Houston:
The Albuquerque, N.M., City Council voted this month to let residents vote on the future of the city’s 20 red light cameras in October. (City lawyers are still weighing whether the vote would have any official effect.)
In May, a Missouri circuit judge issued a preliminary ruling saying the measure that authorized St. Louis’ 51 cameras was illegally enacted.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he would sign a bill the Legislature passed last month to limit — though not ban outright — localities’ use of cameras at intersections.
The North Carolina Senate voted in April to ban cameras; the measure awaits House action.
The Florida House passed a bill last month to ban red light cameras; the measure failed in the Senate.
A Superior Court judge last week struck down the law that enacted use of cameras in Spokane, Wash., agreeing that citations generated by the cameras were invalid because they were not personally signed by a police officer.
Often, the cameras lead to fines — and depending on the jurisdiction, costly points on drivers’ records — for borderline infractions like failing to come to a complete stop before making a right turn. (That infraction makes up two-thirds of the citations issued at camera-monitored intersections in Los Angeles, even though it rarely leads to an accident, the controller’s audit reported.)
Other common complaints are that the automated citations violate due process and equal protection rights — often, there’s no officer to confront in court — and invade motorists’ privacy. Challenges to red light cameras
Besides questions about the reliability of safety research and the use of cameras as revenue generators, challenges to the devices have raised these issues:
• Due process and equal protection. Defendants have argued that enforcement is selective because not all violators receive tickets, that assuming the driver is also the owner shifts the burden of proof from prosecutors to defendants, that different punishments for tickets issued by a machine and by an officer violate the 14th Amendment, that delays in processing and sending out tickets violate due process protections and that warning signs are frequently unclear or incorrectly placed.
• Search and seizure. At least two lawsuits have argued that issuing a citation based on a photograph amounts to an unconstitutional seizure of the vehicle.
• Privacy. While some anti-camera advocates argue that the cameras are an invasion of privacy, no such challenges have been raised in court, according to research by Carlos Sun, a lawyer and engineering professor at the University of Missouri, who writes: “Driving is a regulated activity on public roads. By obtaining a license, a motorist agrees to abide by certain rules including, for example, to obey traffic signals.”
Sources: msnbc.com research; “Is Robocop a Cash Cow?” (Carlos Sun, University of Missouri, November 2010)
Leslie Blakey, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign to Stop Red Light Running, which advocates for red light cameras, said opponents have fought the devices since they started taking root about a decade ago. She broke the opposition down into two camps: “civil libertarians who resist the imposition of automated enforcement” and “people who got tickets and just don’t like it.”
Beeber, of Safer Streets LA, agreed that “as more people get tickets, they start getting mad about it,” saying: “You start doing that year after year after year and you start generating enough anger in the populace and it gets to the tipping point.”
What’s changed in the last couple of years, Blakey said, is the “ability of people to organize online and form communities and organize actions that are well-orchestrated” on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“These things are becoming more and more useful to a small minority of people who want to mount an action against anything,” she said.
In response, Blakey’s group points to the Insurance Institute study and others like it that conclude the “red light cameras lead to significant decreases in intersection violations and crashes.”
Large studies produce wide range of results
This is where things get muddy, because hard research on the effect of red light cameras in the United States is incomplete and often contradictory.
That includes the widely reported Insurance Institute study from February. Like nearly all other studies over the past decade, that report found a significant decline in deaths from red light accidents in cities that use cameras. But deaths from U.S. roadway accidents of all kinds have dropped significantly — by 13.1 percent — during the study period of 2004 through 2008, data from the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration show.