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California: Camera Tickets Mailed on a Guess
Redwood City, California admits to making guesses when issuing red light running tickets based on unclear photographs.

Redwood City landmark
When officials in Redwood City, California are not sure who was responsible for an alleged red light camera infraction, they mail out citations to vehicle owners based upon a guess. The San Mateo Daily Journal newspaper provided an inside look at the city's procedures for dealing with tickets issued by a single red light camera installed in March. So far, 470 tickets worth $180,950 have been mailed.

Australian red light camera vendor Redflex operates the device in return for a monthly fee. Redflex employees use sophisticated computer algorithms to review the photographs taken and decide who is and is not guilty with the click of a mouse. The company then offers the Redwood City Police Department an opportunity to review tickets before Redflex drops them in the mail. For budgetary purposes, the police claim an employee spent twenty hours per week in reviewing citations. If true, this means that a police officer spent a full half-hour reviewing each ticket issued to date, one-by-one.

According to the Daily Journal, when Redflex presented a ticket where the full image of the license plate was obstructed, Redwood City Police Project Coordinator Mickey Manry simply guessed what the missing numbers might have been. Manry determined that the non-visible portion of a license plate could only have consisted of a single-digit number. He typed in possible combinations until a registration came up with a vehicle type that appeared to be a close enough match to the vehicle in the photograph. That vehicle's owner will receive points against his driver's license and $385 ticket.

Motorists in Iowa, Ohio and many other jurisdictions have found that similar guesswork can cause them to be accused of violations that they did not commit. For police and Redflex, there is no penalty for falsely issuing a citation. Innocent motorists often end up paying a ticket rather than subject themselves to the time and hassle required to resolve a false citation.

Source: Pictures worth $400,000 (San Mateo Daily Journal (CA), 5/30/2008)

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