Of cameras and common sense…

In Editorial on February 3, 2012 at 11:54 am

The horn of the car behind me blared insistently. The driver sat behind its wheel gesturing with his hands, palms up. In the universal language of the impatient he was demanding, “Hey! What gives?”

I didn’t budge. The car behind the gesturing, horn-blower joined in with a toot of its own.

I didn’t budge.

I was at an intersection that is diligently guarded by the corporate interests of the City of Des Moines and Gatso-USA. I was in the right turn lane and was dutifully stopped almost one foot behind the painted white pavement bar of “No Man’s Land”.

When it comes down to it, a government may fix a noose about your neck, but you are not compelled to jump from the gallows on your own volition.

According to the Iowa Code dealing with motor vehicle laws, a driver may turn right on a red light, but there is nothing to compel him/her to do so…

…unless he/she is intimidated by the blaring horn of the car behind.

I was not intimidated. There was no way under the sun that I would risk garnering a sixty-five dollar pledge card from Des Moines/Gatso. I certainly would not risk my wallet contents to someone I didn’t know, beyond his impatient gestures and horn-honking.

And, I am not compelled to drive at a speed above the posted minimum. Consequently, the I-235 Des Moines/Gatso fundraiser does not affect me. I dutifully drive a prudent 5mph below the posted limit.

Sure it annoys other drivers. But, nothing says I must drive as they wish and thereby subject myself to the “good will” of Des Moines/Gatso and hope they are honoring their “11mph threshold” of speed leniency.

It’s called a “rules strike”.

The principle of a rules strike is that absolute cooperation with the rules will ball up a system that depends on a percentage of rules violations to exist. In other words, 100% compliance with 100% of the rules of a system will cause that system to collapse.

If every driver dutifully drove 5pmh below a posted limit and refused to turn right on red at “camera protected” intersections, the cameras would become unprofitable and would go away.

The system depends on, and hopes for, a certain number of violations.

“It’s for safety.”

I call “BS”.

What about ‘other measures’?

Many Australians have come up with their own methods of dealing with Gatsos. Some Ozzies have “necklaced” the infernal devices with “tyres filled with petrol” and set them afire.

Justice: Ozzie-style

It is a sure venture that Des Moine’s unattended mobile speed trap, were it in Australia, would be neutralized with 1) a cricket bat, 2) two liters of petrol, and 3) a book of lucifers (matches).

No, violence is not the proper means. When the state holds all of the cards, and superior firepower, non-cooperation trumps violence as a means of protest.

Why the anger?

Why do these devices raise the hackles of people from across the political spectrum? Why are Iowa lawmakers considering a ban on them?

Low-tech Ozzie solution

Americans have a love for fairness. In long-gone days past, before “three-strikes laws” an American felon (after serving his/her time) could re-join the ranks of his fellow citizens in most things. Immigrants, fugitives or ex-convicts from regimes across the globe could come to America for a fresh start.

From its beginnings, Americans have harbored a reasonable expectation that, if they encounter the American law enforcement community and the judicial system, they will be treated fairly.

The automated enforcement devices run counter to American expectations for such fairness and it makes people angry.

The first unfair step…

The principle unfairness begins with how “violations” captured by the cameras are adjudicated.

Under the traditional American system of criminal justice, the state must prove its case against the accused “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The goal of such a system was to prevent government from using criminal

Counsel for the State

law as a means of intimidating the population. If it were hard to gain conviction, the state (goes the logic) would think twice before bringing specious charges against a citizen.

The first step the fundraising politicians engaged in was to move citations from criminal law into civil law.

In civil law, the burden of proof by the accuser is limited to “a preponderance of the evidence”. The difference between these levels of proof is enormous. By moving prohibited activities to civil levels of proof, it tips the scale of justice in favor of the state.

That’s just wrong and it runs counter to American sensitivities toward justice.

The “crime”…

It’s difficult (and immoral) to decry punishment of flagrant violations of law that place others at risk of injury or death. But it is neither difficult nor immoral to protest heavy-handed punishments of “technical violations”.

Many years ago, I taught community college classes to law enforcement officers. One of the courses was “Traffic Law Enforcement”. One of the fun facts cited in our text was that drivers on an interstate (freeway) commit about one to three technical violations per five miles traveled. In urban areas, drivers can be expected to make almost the same number of technical violations for each mile driven.

Hence, the financial bonanza for cash-strapped cities. One can almost hear city leaders bemoaning that they cannot apprehend (and fine!) every technical violation committed.

I urge readers to consult any state publication for driver training. Carefully read what is deemed proper and improper driving per that manual for lane usage, stopping, turning, signaling, etc.

The most egregious abuse of the red light cameras is capturing technical violations caused by turning right on red.

The driver stops behind the painted bar and then pulls forward to, according to the manual, “assure that the turn can be completed safely”. To do so, the driver must cross the painted bar…FLASH…gottcha! Now, the driver is wholly dependent on the mercy of Gatso, who has a financial horse in the race, to be merciful.

Sure, the driver can appeal. But remember under what rules!

The traditional, American fairness standards…

Remember the stereotypical motorcycle cop behind the billboard of years past? Even their fellow cops didn’t care for them.

Becoming the stereotype

Remember speed zones dropping from 65mph to 30mph in less than a few hundred feet with no warning?

Remember cops sitting a few feet inside of a speed zone with radar?

Many states enacted laws against those kinds of police conduct entirely because the practices were not fair to drivers.

We need to return to those standards.

Cameras will make us less safe…

Enforcement cameras do nothing to interdict impaired drivers, reckless drivers, and habitually bad drivers. A bad driver can garner hundreds of camera citations and, so long as he/she has the money to pay up, can continue driving badly and dangerously.

Enforcement cameras do nothing to apprehend people who tailgate, ignore lane markings, merge improperly, or drive on the shoulder to pass slower traffic.

With the cameras comes police complacency. “The cameras will handle the area. No need for patrols there.”

Enforcement cameras do nothing to assist stranded motorists and do not offer aid to motorists who encounter those who are truly criminally bent.

The cameras drive scofflaws from the camera enforcement areas and into neighborhoods. To “make up time” lost by innumerable red lights, speed zones, etc…folks will barrel through residential areas. To avoid camera “protected” intersections, people will bypass those intersections into neighborhoods where they can run stop signs with impunity.

The “it frees officers to do “more important jobs” myth…

Having cameras at intersections and set as mobile speed traps allows police officers to concentrate on “real” crimes involving the oft-cited trilogy of “guns, gangs, and drugs”.

If a community is so badly plagued by “guns, gangs and drugs” that officers do not have time and resources to devote to community policing in a traditional role, the war is lost and its time to nuke the city from space.

I have a question for police administrators who cite epidemics of “guns, gangs, and drugs” as an excuse for automated traffic enforcement.

“How could you let that happen?”

If a community is overrun with gangs and criminals of all stripes, I blame the police. They have failed. Where were they when the barbarians breached the city gates?

Of course a fourth element has entered the equation. The police now “fight terry wrists” on a routine basis.

Oh dear…the war was lost.

Toward Iowa common sense…

If Iowa has the common sense it touts to the nation every four years, it will reject turning crimes into civil cases simply because doing so is convenient to ensure victory in court. The state’s image of common sense and friendly people is not augmented by turning stretches of highways into speed traps where the cop in mirrored sunglasses is replaced by a camera.

Iowa common sense says that flagrant traffic violators should be apprehended and punished according to criminal law. Relying on technical violations smacks of mean-spiritedness.

Unless reined in, the cameras do not bode of an Orwellian dystopia, as some libertarians wrongly surmise.

No, the cameras will fade away and will be replaced by better enforcement technology.

What technology?

Cars can be equipped with GPS enabled transponders that interact with speed zone and traffic control devices. If a diver commits a violation, the transponder logs the time, location, and nature of the violation and the owner of the car gets a civil demand letter a few weeks later.

Zero-tolerance for traffic violations.

It’s the stuff that gets school kids handcuffed for eating a bag of fries on a city bus.

I don’t think that’s using common sense.


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