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

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.