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Guest column: Why red-light camera tickets? By Joel Block | Fri, Apr 07 2017 12:05 AM

On March 23 the Florida House voted 91-22 to end red-light camera tickets. Like here in California, the use of cameras/computers to give red-light tickets has been a controversial policy across the country.

Locally, the City of Los Alamitos claims it implemented red-light cameras for safety purposes. Yet, there is another factor at work: money.

These days, a Los Alamitos red-light camera ticket costs the driver approximately $500.  That hefty fine creates a lot of income for a lot of people.

On its “Red Light Camera” website, Los Alamitos states it costs the City approximately $215,200 to run its red light camera system. 

The same website doesn’t report the city’s revenues from camera tickets, or how much ‘profit’ the tickets generate for the city. However, per the OC Register, the city claims the extra money goes for ‘core’ police services.

Illegal Camera Tickets

Last July the Register reported Los Alamitos admitted the system was illegally generating faulty red-light camera-generated tickets over a 10-month period in 2015 and 2016. 

The city estimated at least 1,000 such tickets were issued to victimized drivers.  That is half a million dollars in camera tickets.

The city had to give up the ticket fines if and when the individual drivers challenged them in court. 

Did the city voluntarily return fines paid by victimized drivers who didn’t challenge their tickets in court?  You can take a guess.

Red-light cameras are used in 426 communities nationwide, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  Only two Orange County cities still use them, down from nine.

It’s a big money business, and an international one.  Los Alamito’s supplier is Redflex Traffic Systems, which is one of the largest, based in Australia.  It is also possibly the most problematic.

Fraud and Bribery

Last month Redflex settled a fraud/bribery lawsuit by the City of Chicago for $20 million. One Chicago city official received a 10-year federal prison sentence for bribery.

The Redflex CEO at the time, and a Redflex consultant involved, also received federal prison sentences for their roles in the scam. 

The case was initiated after an expose by the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The case ended up involving the FBI, the U.S. Attorney and the IRS.

The case was a big one, as Redflex had received hundreds of millions of dollars in red-light camera contracts from the City of Chicago over many years.

During the investigation, Chicago Tribune reported in 2014 that Redflex’s former top salesman asserted that Redflex provided bribes to dozens of local officials in 13 states.

Redflex also agreed last year with the Justice Department to settle a pending criminal prosecution concerning Columbus, Ohio by paying $100,000 in restitution to the city.

Closer to home and on a smaller scale, the Sacramento Bee reported Redflex provided thousands of dollars in free meals to Sheriff’s deputies and Highway Patrol officers. 

The officers were on a panel, which recommended Redflex for the Sacramento red light camera contract over several other vendors. The officer who received the most free meals, worth $1,789, had been supervising the day-to-day camera ticket program.  He has since been reassigned to patrol duties.

So, why red-light camera tickets?  Safety?  Money?

Joel Block is a retired attorney living in Rossmoor.

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