11/23/2009Arizona: Photo Enforcement Debated in Public Forum
A representative from Redflex appeared for the first time ever to debate automated ticketing in Arizona.
The sponsor of an anti-photo radar ballot initiative faced off in a formal debate Thursday with the leading provider of automated enforcement services. The Tempe Chamber of Commerce hosted Shawn Dow, representing Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar, and Jay Heiler, a lobbyist for Australia's Redflex Traffic Systems.
"The issue is highly interesting, it's politically hot because it affects everybody and there's a lot of traction in it," Heiler said.
Dow emphasized the intense interest in photo ticketing drives people to want to ban it, as has already happened in fourteen states and nine cities.
"I'm fortunate to be part of a national movement against photo radar," Dow said. "Arizona is nowhere near the first state to do this. The first statewide camera program started in Hawaii and it lasted a few weeks before they got rid of them... We are a true grassroots movement. We've woken up to the fact that they're violating the Constitution."
Heiler dismissed this claim, insisting that his company's surveys show ticketing to be popular.
"In every single poll I've seen, there was solid support for use of automated traffic enforcement. In a number of small communities around the country, the issue has been put on the ballot and the vote has gone against it usually very narrowly, usually on a small base of the electorate -- a very small turnout of people in a small community."
The communities that have banned photo enforcement include Alaska's largest city, Anchorage, and Ohio's third largest city, Cincinnati. Toledo was to have voted on a camera ban earlier this month, but city officials moved to block a citizen-led initiative. In Peoria, Arizona; Batavia, Illinois;Sulphur, Louisiana; Steubenville and Chillicothe Ohio, the vote ranged from two-thirds against the use of automated cameras to five out of every six voters opposing them. Dow suggested that the use of cameras has expanded into a widespread surveillance effort.
"They put them up and said only the speeders would be photographed," Dow said. "I read the contract. They're video recording the 'person of interest' where they can type in your name and pull up video of any time you've ever crossed in front of one of their cameras in any state. This is a private, foreign company doing this."
Heiler scoffed at the notion that the Redflex network surveillance center was a privacy threat and, instead, suggested that police officers conducting traffic stops and searches were a larger threat to privacy.
"Automated traffic enforcement is supposed to be Big Brother?" Heiler asked. "No, I don't think so. I think automated traffic enforcement removes the citizen from the most intimate encounter he or she normally ever has with police in his or her life. It's exactly the opposite of Big Brother."
The pair dueled with accident statistics, with Dow citing independent studies showing red light cameras caused an increase in traffic accidents. Heiler countered with numbers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claiming indisputable safety benefits. The insurance industry makes money from each photo radar citation issued on a city street in Arizona. Heiler did concede that in at least one jurisdiction, safety was impaired by the city shortening the duration of the yellow signal warning time.
"To my knowledge it did happen in San Diego, California and anyone involved with it should be prosecuted and put in prison," Heiler said.
Heiler also conceded that the public may eventually ban Redflex from operating cameras in Arizona.
"Just like with traditional speed enforcement, I would say it's possible to overdo it," Heiler admitted. "Just as it was always possible to overdo speed enforcement with police officers -- and it was probably overdone here and there at different points -- it's also possible to overdo it with technology... If this goes on the ballot in Arizona, maybe the public will vote it out. If that's what the public in Arizona wants to do, then that's what happens. That's the way our democracy works."