9/9/2008California Cities Have Red Light Camera Ticket Quota
Los Angeles County and Roseville, California each insist that photo ticket companies meet a numeric standard for the number of citations issued.
Traffic police in Los Angeles, California are not alone in facing heavy pressure to meet ticket quotas in tough budget times. According to newly uncovered contract documents in two California jurisdictions, even their robotic counterparts must also issue a set number of tickets each month or face corrective action. In 2000 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency signed a $3,497,960 contract with a Dallas-based firm, now known as Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), to issue pricey photo citations at seventeen railroad crossings. The county further ordered the company to keep a steady flow of tickets, or face corrective action.
"The contractor shall be required to maintain, at a minimum, the existing rates of citations issued by location as summarized in Attachment F," the agency's contract with ACS stipulates. "For any location where the calculated rate of citations issued is lower than the baseline rate of citations issued, the contractor shall prepare and submit a Corrective Actions Report which provides an analysis of the reasons for the lower rate of citations issued, description of the corrective actions to be taken, and time schedule for implementing the corrective actions."
The contract sets as the baseline that the company must issue 25 tickets for every 100 alleged violations recorded by the machine. These recordings include any number of situations where either no real offense took place, or the driver cannot be positively identified -- as required under California law. Nonetheless, if the total number of citations mailed falls under 25 per 100, the corrective steps must be taken to boost the number of citations mailed. In effect, this provides a direct incentive to the contractor to issue tickets regardless of whether the machine properly captured a true violation. There is no penalty under state law for a contractor to guess, for example, a license plate number when the image is unreadable.
The contract documents were obtained by the editor of the highwayrobbery.net website who suggested that these provisions directly conflict with a state law prohibiting "any policy requiring any peace officer or parking enforcement employees to meet an arrest quota" (California Vehicle Code Section 41602). The law defines arrest quotas as any requirement for a police officer or meter maid to issue any proportion or number of "notices of violation." Under California law, a police officer technically "issues" each red light camera or rail crossing photo citation often in a procedure known as bulk approval.
Near Sacramento, the city of Roseville crafted a similar quota provision in its contract with vendor Redflex Traffic Systems, except in this case the beneficiary is the Australian company. Redflex agreed to provide intersection cameras to the city at a "flat rate" of $6000, as required by law. The flat rate, however, is not truly flat Redflex will be paid less if an insufficient number of the $380 tickets are issued. The company can avoid this loss:
"If the city or police waives more than 10 percent of valid violations forwarded to the police for acceptance according to mutually agreed upon business rules established during the project kick-off meeting," the contract states.
This provision in effect prevents police from being generous in their interpretation of what constitutes a violation, especially in the case of right turns on red, by creating a direct financial incentive to approve citations provided by the vendor.
Roseville Police had taken steps to avoid public disclosure of information regarding its red light camera program. In a 2006 memo to a neighboring department, Roseville Police expressed frustration with individuals, including the editor of highwayrobbery.net, for disclosing contract provisions that the city prefers to keep secret.
"The one annoyance are the people who have made it their mission to fight photo red light citations by making public records requests," Roseville Police wrote. "My recommendations is that you save every related document somewhere and when you get your first public records request you send them an avalanche of paper and charge them accordingly."
A copy of the contracts is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.