I hear rumblings from some of my Warren friends that some city officials may once again try to install traffic cameras. They did this once before but ceded to public pressure to scrap the idea.
I don't know how everyone else feels about them, but I am strongly opposed, and judging by how people vote against them when given the chance, many people feel the same.
I feel strongly enough about them that I sued the City of Girard when they installed them a few years ago and succeeded in having them removed. It should be noted that I did not get a speeding ticket from one of the cameras, so that's not what prompted my suit.
I will stipulate that they do force people to drive slower, and they do free up police resources to do other things. Their biggest appeal though, for politicians, is that they generate large amounts of money.
There are many reasons I oppose their use, but I'll just list two that you should consider.
First, many people do not realize the number of criminals who are caught on routine traffic stops and may not be aware that police are trained to observe who they stop for traffic violations. These routine stops result in many dangerous people being apprehended. When cities install cameras, the number of traffic stops by police officers goes down dramatically. Cameras don't stop cars and have zero chance of taking impaired or illegal drivers off the road.
To understand my second point, you must understand that a traffic law violation is a criminal offense, and that you can be arrested for it. The reason the state decided to make speeding a crime is that it can have such serious consequences. And, since it is a crime, if you contest a speeding charge you are afforded the same protection as people charged with other crimes. The crime has to be witnessed by the charging officer, and he has to come and personally testify against you if you contest the charge.
Even for a police officer to issue a parking ticket, without witnessing the driver commit the violation, the state had to provide an exemption to its traffic laws. Cities do not possess this power, though some politicians think so. More on that later.
I am sure you also know that lawmakers devised an incremental system of punishment starting with fines and assigning points to violators. Get enough points and your driving privileges get withdrawn.
Knowing that cameras can't testify, municipalities have written laws stating that tickets issued by cameras shall not be viewed as crimes, alleviating the need of having a person witness them; these laws also remove the assigning of points. Herein lies my biggest objection.
The state understood that fines alone would not be adequate to keep some wealthy people from speeding. The rich could view it as just ''pay to play.'' As these cameras proliferate, and because municipalities no longer will assign points, those who are very rich could speed with impunity. It would be viewed as just another tax.
They could put aside a couple thousand dollars a year toward paying fines and never again have to worry about how fast they are driving. They will now have a ''license'' to speed. The poor would have to obey speeding laws; the rich would be exempt.
I believe ultimately the courts would find that municipalities overstep their powers when they write laws changing speeding from a criminal offense to a civil offense just so they can install traffic cameras. The general rule is that cities cannot permit what the state prohibits, nor prohibit what the state permits.
A good example would be a city attempting to change the drinking age to 18. It's beyond a city's authority. Courts have been reluctant, though, to strike down the use of these cameras because they will be cutting off the large revenue stream they provide cash-strapped cities.
If you object to the use of these cameras, and don't want to see them on every street, be alert to politicians who propose their use. Call them and make sure they know that you will vigorously oppose them come election time.
Moadus is a Girard resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.