Should a city depend on its citizens committing crimes in order to make budget?

This seems like a huge conflict of interest to me. Judicial offices should not be motivated by $$ when considering the enforcement of existing laws. DC Mayor Williams recently said that he wants to expand the use of traffic cameras not because we need to reduce speeding violations or red-light running, but “because the city needs the money”:

A tax on crime. So, law enforcement basically works on commission now, right? Here’s an op-ed piece from that mirrors my feelings quite nicely.

Having received my fair share of bogus parking tickets in my 13+ years in DC (mostly back when ticket quotas were being enforced), I can’t help but feel like it’s just more of the same old quota/agressive ticketing nonsense, but this time it’s armed with high tech cameras.

Should law enforcement be motivated by the potential for revenue?

Whats worse about these traffic cameras is that they actually REDUCE saftey, IMHO.

What inevitably happens is that revenue from these cameras does not meet expectations (since the company that installs them gets a fat cut). To increase revenue, the city ends up making the yellow light shorter, thereby increasing the possibility that someone will get caught running the red light.

To me, this is outrageous, as they are effectivelty making the intersection MORE DANGEROUS in the name of increasing revenue.

Traffic light cameras are nothing but a Big Brother scam

Do you have a citation to support this claim, by chance?

In my view, unlike the “bogus parking tickets” there is little chance that the camera will result in a false guilty finding. The photo either shows your car in the intersection under a red light, or it doesn’t. The timing of the light must conform to accepted standards, or the ticket may be challenged on those grounds.

Perhaps I am biased in this regard, having been in a car that was destroyed, and nearly destroyed myself, by a driver who didn’t heed a red light. But the argument against this scheme seems to flail about, with vague references to Big Brother, as though the police are not permitted to take pictures of you driving down a public street. Needless to say, they are. If you wish t avoid getting ticketed for running a red light, my suggestion would be to avoid running red lights.

  • Rick

Is this true? Wouldn’t this mean that city officials couldn’t screw with the timing of a yellow light to induce more people to run the light - at least within a certain range?

I understand that if the light’s yellow, one is legally obligated to slow down, preparing to stop. But if one is not used to the timing of a particular light, then one might think one has more time to make it through the light before it turns red.

(I’m definitely not saying you’re wrong; I’m just curious.)

Seems to me that there’s already a precedent to be found in thousands of small town speed traps across the nation.

A small-town speed trap (or a small-state speed trap, like New Hampshire or Delaware) is primarily looking to tax transients, not its own citizens. Ticketing rates are much lower for the jurisdiction’s own people.

But of course the OP is right in theory. It’s that in-practice stuff that will get you.

I think the mayor of D.C. is just being up front about the situation. Is there a site that show a pie chart of a major city’s budget? Surely most (if not all) major cities rely (not solely, of course) on monies collected from moving and parking violations, right?

This goes to the heart of the matter. It’s the word rely that gives me the willies. If the budget relies on fines collected from law-breaking, you don’t have to do much paraphrasing to say that the city depends on its citizens breaking the law in order to justify the budget.

And how do you plan for such a budget? What if the citizens don’t break enough parking laws and we don’t meet the budget? Doesn’t that mean we need more people parking illegally? Or maybe parking enforcement isn’t being aggressive enough. It burns me up when I see parking enforcement people writing $50 tickets for cars that stick out a few inches (no exaggeration) past the no parking sign.

There was a big contraversy in LA a year or so ago. because the city was caught doing exactly that. No cite, but you could probably Google it fairly quickly. I would, but I’m lazy. I don’t know if I would call the effect “inevitable”, as it requires that you have extremely unscrupulous people at the helm who are willing to essentially force people to commit crimes.

In a larger sense, I have an issue with this, because it makes tickets harder to dispute. For example, what if the camera’s malfucntioning? How do you prove that? It also renders things black-and-white in instances where they may be a gray area. Say you’re driving up towards a red light, and you inhale some dust. You cough for a second, which distracts your attention from the red light, and when you refocus, you realize you’re about to run the red light - no time to stop. If a cop pulls you over, you can explain your situation, and a sympathetic one will probably let you off with a warning (provided he believes you) - you technically broke the law, yes, but it was an honest accident, and no harm was cause. How do you explain this to the traffic camera? You can appeal the case, but in my experience judges tend to be far less sympathetic than cops, plus it requires you to probably lose a day’s pay in order to go to court. The legal system should not be completely automated - there should always remain a very prominent human element where possible.

In a more general sense, I don’t think that relying on crime - indeed, actively hoping for more crime - is a good way to repair your budget. It’s just a frightening attitude. It’s far too easy to slip into a mode where authorities begin to ignore the spirit of the law in favor of the letter - or worse, ignoring the letter as well, in a quest for more infractions. True, you’re going to collect fines, and those should be put to good use, but if crime declines, that should be a good thing. Raise taxes if you need to, but don’t rely on criminals to foot the bill.

Amen, brother. Or getting a ticket for pausing for perhaps 15 seconds to drop someone off somewhere, and making the mistake of pausing in front of a handicapped spot.


Yes, I have numerous cites:

Congress’s report on red light cameras

PAtrick Bedard investigates red ligh cameras

Yes, I have numerous cites:

Congress’s report on red light cameras

PAtrick Bedard investigates red ligh cameras

From the congressional link:

DC removed the red-light camera right by my house (the one by the CNN building at North Capitol and H Street) because it was getting people who were running a “convenience light” (blinking yellow light that turns red) even though they weren’t running the light at the actual intersection (after previewing I realize I’m not doing a good job of explaining this- you’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s patently unfair). DC removed the light, but not after over 20,000 tickets were (IMHO wrongly) issued. If you had already paid your ticket then you were SOL.

Here’s a link that sort of describes the situation- link
And an interesting letter from Councilwoman Carol Schwartz.

you wouldnt suggest that the police are taking advantage of us for money!


the horror!