Surprise: Chicago’s red light cameras are giving out a bunch of unwarranted tickets

posted at 9:21 pm on August 5, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

It should be a no-brainer for Republicans to line up against red-light and speed cameras in every state in America. They don’t make roads safer (in fact, sometimes they do the opposite), they’re easily manipulated, sometimes used by the corrupt to up revenue. And, all of these $100+ tickets hurt low-income folks the worst. Same goes for parking ticket rackets. Especially in highly blue urban centers, where revenue rackets like this are most pronounced, why not wage a populist campaign against them as an outlier Republican?


In Chicago, there appears to have been some funny business, according to a Tribune investigation:

Thousands of Chicago drivers have been tagged with $100 red light fines they did not deserve, targeted by robotic cameras during a series of sudden spikes in tickets that city officials say they cannot explain, a Tribune investigation has found.

The Tribune’s analysis of more than 4 million tickets issued since 2007 and a deeper probe of individual cases revealed clear evidence that the deviations in Chicago’s network of 380 cameras were caused by faulty equipment, human tinkering or both.

Chicago transportation officials say they had no knowledge of the wild swings in ticketing until they were told by the Tribune — even though City Hall legally required the camera vendor to watch for the slightest anomaly in ticketing patterns every day. Many of the spikes lasted weeks.

The lack of oversight raises new questions about the controversial traffic enforcement program, the largest in the country, now embroiled in a federal corruption probe into allegations that the city’s longtime red light camera manager took bribes from the camera company.

“Something is terribly amiss here,” said Joseph Schofer, an associate dean at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science who reviewed the Tribune’s research.

What? That’s not the Chi-town I know! The numbers are pretty astounding for what experts say shows signs of not just equipment malfunction but human intervention:

A 10-month Tribune investigation documented more than 13,000 questionable tickets at 12 intersections that experienced the most striking spikes; similar patterns emerged at dozens of other intersections responsible for tens of thousands more tickets. Among the key findings:

Cameras that for years generated just a few tickets daily suddenly caught dozens of drivers a day. One camera near the United Center rocketed from generating one ticket per day to 56 per day for a two-week period last summer before mysteriously dropping back to normal.

Tickets for so-called rolling right turns on red shot up during some of the most dramatic spikes, suggesting an unannounced change in enforcement. One North Side camera generated only a dozen tickets for rolling rights out of 100 total tickets in the entire second half of 2011. Then, over a 12-day spike, it spewed 563 tickets — 560 of them for rolling rights.

Here’s hoping more cities’ red-light camera programs go the way of St. Louis’, which is not being enforced while it awaits review by the state Supreme Court for violations.

Screw-ups in D.C., too, of course.

In the Chicago case, some say the city will be on the hook for refunds, which means giving up some of that sweet, sweet, stolen revenue. Good. I hope it hurts enough they learn not to steal.


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Wait, am I to understand there might some corruption in Chicago?

rbj on August 5, 2014 at 9:28 PM

In the Chicago case, some say the city will be on the hook for refunds, which means giving up some of that sweet, sweet, stolen revenue. Good. I hope it hurts enough they learn not to steal.

Now, that’s hilarious!

Jeff2161 on August 5, 2014 at 9:28 PM

ObamaTickets?

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 9:29 PM

Sweet.

Pork-Chop on August 5, 2014 at 9:34 PM

Screw-ups in D.C., too, of course.

Doesn’t matter. Either way, Marion Barry ain’t paying.

jon1979 on August 5, 2014 at 9:36 PM

City Hall legally required the camera vendor to watch for the slightest anomaly in ticketing patterns every day. Many of the spikes lasted weeks.

So the people who get PAID on the number of tickets issued are supposed to insure that the numbers are accurate and aren’t INFLATED.

GarandFan on August 5, 2014 at 9:39 PM

I hope it hurts enough they learn not to steal.

Please. This IS Chicago we’re talking about. You know, the place where the “president” learned politics. This sort of corruption being exposed only teaches them to steal more effectively and less obviously. Please folks, if you live in this wretched state, vote for Bruce Rauner.

SteveThomas on August 5, 2014 at 9:47 PM

Big Brother. Our friend.

Closet Optimist on August 5, 2014 at 9:53 PM

It should be a no-brainer for Republicans to line up against red-light and speed cameras in every state in America. They don’t make roads safer (in fact, sometimes they do the opposite), they’re easily manipulated, sometimes used by the corrupt to up revenue.

These red-light and speed cameras are un-Constitutional surveillance of the population. They should not be allowed, at all.

Furthermore, moving violations are tickets to the driver, not the car, so I don’t even understand how they can justify these Soviet-style surveillance cameras all over the place. It is quite insane.

Then again, local police have gotten away with turning a $25 road fine into a $127.50 ticket, after they add all the “charges” and BS they can, so I can understand how they’ve been allowed to snoop on everyone with no cause, whatsoever, and to issue tickets to vehicles when it’s the driver that has to be fined.

It’s about time that these local tyrants were put in their place. Put them back in little cars – no more SUVs loaded to the brim or APCs to tool around little towns in – and restrict them to enforcing the law and not breaking it “because they can”.

Red light cameras are a Constitutional affront and repulsive signs of the retarded police state closing in. All in favor of them should be shipped off to Venezuela or Britain … where surveillance of the subjects is enjoyed by all.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on August 5, 2014 at 9:54 PM

Corruption in CHICAGO???

Oh Mary Katherine!! Say it isn’t so!

oldleprechaun on August 5, 2014 at 9:54 PM

The lack of oversight raises new questions about the controversial traffic enforcement program, the largest in the country, now embroiled in a federal corruption probe into allegations that the city’s longtime red light camera manager took bribes from the camera company.


Aaaannd
apparrently was dumb enough NOT to contribute 10% to Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign!

Inquiring minds want to know … how many DEAD people did the cameras ticket?

PolAgnostic on August 5, 2014 at 9:56 PM

Chicago transportation officials say they had no knowledge of the wild swings in ticketing until they were told by the Tribune — even though City Hall legally required the camera vendor to watch for the slightest anomaly in ticketing patterns every day. Many of the spikes lasted weeks.

This is ridiculous. The city should be getting their own copy of the data on a day-to-day basis and doing their own analysis, it would be a trivial amount of manpower to keep track of. Chicago’s Eldermen are just outsourcing their incompetence.

Socratease on August 5, 2014 at 9:56 PM

Even if it happened the media would never cover it..maybe someday we can get some Conservatives that will at least start by defining taxpayer funded super-liberal media like NPR..

It’s would a start at least, but I have little hope of seeing that happen or much of anything else with the GOPe in power even in the house…crickets with them in control of the house and pursestrings and nothing has changed…

celt on August 5, 2014 at 9:59 PM

defining=defunding..auto correct on my phone..aaarg! :)

celt on August 5, 2014 at 10:00 PM

Chicago: One big red-light district.

Drained Brain on August 5, 2014 at 10:00 PM

Solution: Paint ball gun

kurtzz3 on August 5, 2014 at 10:10 PM

Yeah, I’ve never understood how it’s legal for them to give tickets from camera shots that don’t identify the driver. Vehicles can’t legally be fined for moving violations, only people can, or so I always thought. Also, what about the right to face your accuser? Are you going to put a camera on the witness stand to answer questions?

Paperclips on August 5, 2014 at 10:25 PM

The red light cameras are bad, but the speeding cameras are absolutely insufferable, and they are making driving in Chicago a miserable experience. All they do is make traffic slow to a crawl, and it’s lunacy to pretend that 20 MPH speed limits during rush hour on heavily trafficked roads do anything to increase safety.

Kensington on August 5, 2014 at 11:24 PM

Surprise: Chicago’s red light cameras are giving out a bunch of unwarranted tickets

Yeah. And just wait until government starts to control health care . . .

Oh . . .

dissent555 on August 6, 2014 at 12:17 AM

In Florida IIRC Tampa or Orlando someone screwed by one of these ticket bandits got wise to it.

The set up an intersection camera showing how the yellow light was shortened or bypassed in order to increase the ticket loot.

For a while there a judge had to recall about as many tickets as Gummint Motors faulty cars.

…but the temptations to Junk Justice are too great as are the commissions gained by the camera operators.

viking01 on August 6, 2014 at 12:27 AM

And let’s not forget this gem of a story from May, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“The city’s website shows Emanuel’s motorcade has had 17 red-light tickets and three speed warnings since 2012 — plus parking tickets. In fact, the two vehicles in Emanuel’s convoy had so many parking tickets, they were flagged to be booted three times.”

Read the whole story at Rahm Emanuel’s red-light camera problem

stukinIL4now on August 6, 2014 at 12:47 AM

I hope it hurts enough they learn not to steal.

Nice thought. But what are the odds?

There Goes the Neighborhood on August 6, 2014 at 12:47 AM

Chicago!!! Land of taxes, fees & fines. Corruption @ it’s best

RdLake on August 6, 2014 at 12:52 AM

Another Democrat war on the people program.

Viator on August 6, 2014 at 5:44 AM

They don’t make roads safer (in fact, sometimes they do the opposite), they’re easily manipulated, sometimes used by the corrupt to up revenue. And, all of these $100+ tickets hurt low-income folks the worst.

Dunno…there are a lot of idiots who view traffic laws as being optional-or that they exist for everyone else.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 6, 2014 at 5:50 AM

But, but it is for the chillins

That should make it OK to pad the numbers a little. No?

txdoc on August 6, 2014 at 6:54 AM

Red light and speed enforcement cameras are about $$$ not safety.

There aren’t any of those in the region I live in, thank God.

ConstantineXI on August 6, 2014 at 7:49 AM

I wouldn’t live in Chicago if you paid me $10 million a year.

ConstantineXI on August 6, 2014 at 7:50 AM

And let’s not forget this gem of a story from May, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“The city’s website shows Emanuel’s motorcade has had 17 red-light tickets and three speed warnings since 2012 — plus parking tickets. In fact, the two vehicles in Emanuel’s convoy had so many parking tickets, they were flagged to be booted three times.”

Read the whole story at Rahm Emanuel’s red-light camera problem

stukinIL4now on August 6, 2014 at 12:47 AM

I was just going to post this relating to the same story:

Despite Rahm Emanuel’s contention that red light and speed cameras are “all about safety,” the ABC7 Eyewitness News I-Team learned those same cameras regularly catch the mayor’s motorcade running red and speeding

.

Fallon on August 6, 2014 at 8:43 AM

I wouldn’t live in Chicago if you paid me $10 million a year.

ConstantineXI on August 6, 2014 at 7:50 AM

You’d be surprised how well you could live on that here.

Fallon on August 6, 2014 at 8:46 AM

Oh, and…

In the Chicago case, some say the city will be on the hook for refunds, which means giving up some of that sweet, sweet, stolen revenue. Good. I hope it hurts enough they learn not to steal.

Refunds will not be given automatically. The recipients of the bogus tickets will have to request a review of their ticket. No guarantees… It is, after all, Chicago. It might depend on who you know.

Fallon on August 6, 2014 at 8:50 AM

States,towns , municipalities all over are getting into this camera ticket scam. It absolutely has everything to do with revenue , nothing to do with safety. Towns and municipalities are now going back 20 years looking for unpaid tickets and some times enacting laws for new fees on old offenses . The red light cameras in my area if you are summoned and plead not guilty they STILL charge you a hearing fee of 40$ , a plea of guilty is 85$. If you go to court for a hearing you’ll wait 5 hours to see judge……… Do the math , 85$ for 5 mins transaction , or 40$ for 7 hour ordeal……… These are democrat and republican run areas the government on all levels wants our money and will do anything to get it. I ve known a few people who wanted to and have become politicians, everyone of them has had serious character flaws ……. Or something psychologically wrong with them there isn’t a good one out there.

murrayjones on August 6, 2014 at 9:04 AM

If red light cameras are unconstitutional (they are), then how much worse are license-plate-scanning cameras mounted on patrol vehicles?

I was recently given a warning about an overdue registration (check’s in the mail, they don’t ticket you within the first month). Sitting in a left turn lane for a shopping area waiting for the light to change, I notice a CHP Crown Vic roll by at regular road speed on my right. Less than two minutes later, he’s pulling up behind me as I find a parking spot.

He said “I ran your license, and discovered that your registration is expired”. I asked what motivated him to run the plate, if I had done something wrong while driving. He hesitated, then said “No, it was just routine”. I was as polite as I could be, but reminded him that, just as I’m expected to be honest with him when being questioned in an official capacity, he’s required to be honest with me when questioned about his duties. There’s no way he had reason to notice my car, and decide to check my plate. His always-on camera did it for him, meaning there was no probable cause for him to investigate.

These cameras record every license plate they see, which can provide a viable pattern of movement of a particular vehicle, given enough time and coordinated data. I can understand why law enforcement would want such a tool, but it’s no more appropriate than listening to every phone call in the nation, to make sure any trigger-phrases are captured.

Freelancer on August 6, 2014 at 9:19 AM

I can understand why law enforcement would want such a tool, but it’s no more appropriate than listening to every phone call in the nation, to make sure any trigger-phrases are captured.

Freelancer on August 6, 2014 at 9:19 AM

I can understand why law enforcement would want to be unconstrained in anyway, too. Unreasonable search and seizure puts a real harsh on crime-fighting.

BobMbx on August 6, 2014 at 9:35 AM

It should be a no-brainer for Republicans to line up against red-light and speed cameras in every state in America. They don’t make roads safer (in fact, sometimes they do the opposite), they’re easily manipulated, sometimes used by the corrupt to up revenue. And, all of these $100+ tickets hurt low-income folks the worst.

Holy cow, it’s like I’m reading some flaming liberaltarian magazine now. Where did this come from? They hurt low-income folks? That’s our measure of the validity of a fine, now? If they break the law, they pay the fine, regardless of their income level. What happened to “equality under the law”?

Exodus 23:3
nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

I agree that these things are ripe for abuse – but that’s a function of the government and how they set them up, not a fault of the red-light cameras themselves. I wish (assuming you can set them up without incentivizing corruption) they could be MORE prevalent. Of course, I want fewer lights at intersections (or at least make them as free as possible – maximizing right-of-way so no one has to sit at the light with no cars coming).

And, no, I don’t think any system should record license plates or any other information unless you’ve broken the law.

GWB on August 6, 2014 at 9:49 AM

What? This is not possible! Governments never pass laws to generate revenue! They only ever pass laws to stop evil corporations from destroying the planet they live on, and killing all of their own paying customers, and making sure all people are healthy, happy and financially secure! It’s all completely benevolent and altruistic!

The Schaef on August 6, 2014 at 11:17 AM

Of course, I want fewer lights at intersections (or at least make them as free as possible – maximizing right-of-way so no one has to sit at the light with no cars coming).

GWB on August 6, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Best answer for that might be roundabouts. I’m not crazy about them but that might just be 20 years of conditioning. Mythbusters calculated roundabouts to be more efficient for moving traffic but consider that as reliable or not as it suits you.

The Schaef on August 6, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Best answer for that might be roundabouts. I’m not crazy about them but that might just be 20 years of conditioning. Mythbusters calculated roundabouts to be more efficient for moving traffic but consider that as reliable or not as it suits you.

The Schaef on August 6, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Roundabouts (traffic circles) take up more room. In a crowded city center, there just isn’t space for them. And if you’ve ever tried to get on one, it can be a big problem.
See New Jersey for details. They’re trying to replace them with remodeled intersections, with traffic lights.

ReggieA on August 6, 2014 at 3:38 PM